Multiple Ownership Rules

The FCC this week released a Public Notice announcing comment deadlines on rulemaking proposals relating to the FCC Biennial Ownership Reports. The first set of proposals deals with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued earlier this month, proposing a series of changes to the process for filing these reports. The proposals include a requirement that the all persons with attributable interests in broadcast stations get a unique FCC Registration Number (an "FRN"), which will require filing their Social Security numbers with the FCC. The second proceeding is one released in 2009, but is only now being published in the Federal Register triggering the comment deadline. This proposal suggests that certain nonattributable owners be identified and reported on these Biennial Ownership Reports despite their nonattributable status. Comments on these proposals will be due on February 14, 2013, with reply comments due on March 1, 2013.

The Biennial Ownership report, in its current form, was initially adopted in 2009.  The new reports were to gather information not just about the ownership of broadcasters, but also about their race, ethnicity and gender, so that the FCC could get a better handle on the presence of minority owners in broadcasting.  The first report on the new form was to be filed in November 2009, but that deadline was pushed back to July 2010 when issues with the new form developed.  The second Biennial Ownership report was to have been filed by commercial stations in late 2011 (two years after the original date), and the next is due later this year.  The information in the first two reports was compiled into the information that formed the basis of the FCC’s December request for comments on the impact of proposed changes in the multiple ownership rules on minority ownership


Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Biennial Ownership Report – Seeking Social Security Numbers From All Attributable Owners – and Some Who Are Not

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters. This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider important issues for both radio and TV, as well as issues affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters. The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the broadcasters’ audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act. Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.

Last week, we published a calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters.  This article looks ahead, providing a preview of what other changes might be coming for broadcasters this year – but these are delivered with no guarantees that the issues listed will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items, or that they will be resolved when we predict. But at least this gives you some warning of what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

General Broadcast Issues

 

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

 

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: The FCC is very close to resolving its Quadrennial review of its multiple ownership proceeding, officially begun in 2011 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rumors were that the FCC was ready to issue an order at the end of 2012 relaxing the rules against the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, as well as the radio-television cross-interest prohibitions, while leaving most other rules in place. TV Joint Sales Agreements were also rumored to be part of the FCC’s considerations – perhaps making some or all of these agreements attributable. But even these modest changes in the rules are now on hold, while parties submit comments on the impact of any relaxation of the ownership rules on minority ownership. Still, we would expect that some decision on changes to the ownership rules should be expected at some point this year – probably early in the year. 


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013

The FCC’s multiple ownership proceeding was going to be decided at last, before Christmas, or at least that was what was suggested by many news reports as recently as early last week. Published reports suggested that a draft proposal was circulating at the FCC, and that it was expected to be acted on in December – perhaps at or before next week’s open meeting. That timetable now seems to be out the window, as the FCC has asked for additional comments on the summaries of the information gleaned from the FCC Form 323 Ownership Reports as to minority and female ownership of broadcast stations released late last month. The summary of those reports showed low levels of minority ownership in many parts of the broadcasting world. As the Third Circuit’s remand of the last multiple ownership order (which we summarized here) was based in part on the Commission’s failure to address the impact that its minor liberalization of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules would have on minority ownership, this request for additional comments seems addressed, at least in part, to addressing that perceived deficiency.

The request for comments gives a short deadline, with comments due the day after Christmas, and Replies on January 4. This indicates that there still is a push to get the ownership proceeding resolved early next year. With this push on, it seemed like a good time to review some of the more controversial issues likely to be addressed in the upcoming order.

 

The area where the most arguments seem to be centered, and the one most likely to be impacted by the data on minority ownership, is the cross-ownership rules. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding (see our summary here), the Commission proposed dropping the remaining restrictions on radio-television cross-ownership, and relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions, which the FCC attempted to do in 2007, only to be rebuffed by the Third Circuit. We have observed how some pundits in Washington have mused that the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions may well outlive the daily newspaper, and that seems to be the debate now, as advocates of relaxation argue that combinations will help economically challenged newspapers, while also promoting more news on broadcast stations in such combinations. Opponents, on the other hand, fear that combinations will lessen minority ownership in markets – either by foreclosing opportunities for minority buyers, or by buying minority-owned stations. 


Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Decision Delayed – What Issues Are Being Debated?

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari (i.e. declined review) in two important FCC-related cases pending before it.  First, following the Court’s recent decision in the Fox indecency case, which we described here, the Court not surprisingly refused to review the Third Circuit’s decision vacating the $550,000 FCC fine for the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" in the 2004 Super Bowl shown on CBS. 

In the Fox case, the Supreme Court found that the FCC had not provided advance notice that it would prosecute cases of "fleeting" indecency.  That decision essentially predetermined that the Supreme Court would deny review of the Super Bowl incident.  While denying cert., however, Chief Justice Roberts issued an unusual separate opinion, noting that fleeting indecent images may have a more lasting impression than indecent words.  Nevertheless, he noted that going forward, braodcasters are on notice that fleeting indecent words and images are both now subject to FCC sanctions.


Continue Reading Supreme Court Declines Review of Janet Jackson “Wardrobe Malfunction” and Multiple Ownership Rules

Since the start of the FCC’s examination of its multiple ownership rules in anticipation of its Quadrennial Review of these rules, the question of TV shared services agreements has been one raised by public interest groups, suggesting that combinations of local TV stations for news or sales purposes are not in the public interest

The FCC’ Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its Quadrennial Review of the Multiple Ownership Rules was published in the Federal Register today, setting the deadline of March 5 for initial comments in that proceeding.  Reply comments are due on April 3.  We summarized the FCC’s tentative conclusions on changes to the ownership rules when the Commission

The FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its reexamination of its multiple ownership rules, suggesting limited changes in its rules governing the number of interests that one person or company can have in media outlets in a particular community.  The FCC’s tentative conclusions leave most of the current rules in place – including rules that limit the number of radio and TV stations that one entity can own in a market, and rules prohibiting combined ownership of daily newspapers and TV stations in the same market.  The Commission also proposed keeping the dual network rule, prohibiting the combination of any of the four major TV networks.  Shared Services Agreements were another issue addressed by the FCC – proposing to examine SSAs and and other news and program sharing agreements between otherwise independent stations.  The FCC did propose the abolition of one rule – the rule that currently limits the ownership of radio and TV stations in the same market.  In the NPRM, the FCC suggested that other ownership rules could be waived in some instances, so the details of waivers and exceptions could become an important aspect of any final decision in this proceeding.  All of these conclusions are tentative, and the Commission asks many questions about each of its tentative conclusions and asks for public comment on its ideas.  The public can formally weigh in with comments for 45 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, and file replies 30 days later.  After that, there is sure to be much lobbying of the Commissioners before any final decision is made.

This proceeding combines several on-going proceedings.  The Commission started its required Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules over two years ago with a series of public hearings, and a Notice of Inquiry.  The Commission also is dealing with the clean-up of its last review of the ownership rules, which was embodied in a controversial decision reached late in 2007 (see our summaries here and here).  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out significant parts of that decision, finding that the FCC’s relaxation of the newspaper-television rules had not been the subject of adequate notice to the public, and that the FCC had ignored its obligations to take steps to promote minority ownership of the media.  Some parties seeking repeal of the newspaper-television cross-ownership rules have asked the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit decision – but this NPRM looks to reexamine many of these issues in the event that the Supreme Court doesn’t otherwise preempt their decision.    Below we’ll take a look at specific questions raised by the NPRM.


Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Proposals Released By FCC – Abolish Radio-TV Cross-Ownership Rules, Leave Most Other Rules In Place, Examine Shared Services Agreements

In an eagerly anticipated case involving TV stations in the Honolulu market, the FCC’s Media Bureau determined that a programming swap that permitted one company to hold the licenses of both the NBC and CBS affiliates in a single market, and to also provide technical and office services and news programming to a third station in the market, was permissible under current rules.  However, the Commission warned that it would consider in its upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules whether similar situations should be permitted in the future, and seemingly implied that even this combination could be subject to further review in future licensing proceedings.  The permissibility of shared services agreements has been a question raised by public interest groups for quite some time (see our post here), and has also been raised by certain cable and satellite television operators as such combinations can result in one broadcaster negotiating carriage agreements for multiple stations in a market.  Based on this case, and the issues raised in connection with previous decisions, this will no doubt be a very controversial topic when the Commission considers the upcoming multiple ownership proceeding.

The Honolulu case began with one owner – Raycom – holding two licenses in the market – one an NBC affiliate, and the other an affiliate of the MyTV Network.  As there are 8 independently owned television stations serving Honolulu, the combination of these two stations, only one of which is a Top 4 station in the market, was permissible.  Raycom then entered into a deal with the owner of the local CBS affiliate, where the parties swapped call letters and network affiliations.  Raycom also purchased many of the non-license assets of the station, and received an option to purchase the station, and agreed to pay the licensee, over time, $22 million.  Raycom also entered into a shared services agreement with the owner of the station that had become the MyTV affiliate where Raycom would provide back office services, sales personnel, and a physical location for the station’s studio and transmitting antenna, in exchange for 30% of the stations revenues, and a flat monthly payment.  As detailed below, the Commission determined that the swap of call letters and network affiliations was not subject to review at this time as there was no licensing transaction before the FCC, and the shared services agreement did not violate current FCC policies.


Continue Reading FCC Says TV Shared Services Agreement and a Combination of Two Top 4 Network Affiliates in One Market is Permissible – For Now

In recent weeks, there seems to be a competition to make the FCC more responsive, and to mandate that, before it adopts any new regulations, it take into account the costs of the proposed regulations and the burden that they place on those being regulated.  The Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted a bill (The FCC Process Reform Act of 2011) that would, if adopted by the full House and the Senate, require that the FCC, before adopting any new regulations, take several steps to make sure that regulations were really necessary (see a summary of House bill here).  Before adopting any rule, the Commission would have to survey the marketplace, determine that there was a market failure or specific consumer harm, then take into account the cost of complying with regulations before the new regulations are adopted.  The proposed legislation would also require that the FCC adopt deadlines on many FCC actions ("shot clocks"), perhaps in response to a Study commissioned by the House Committee looking at the length of time that many FCC proceedings take.  The FCC adopted its own proposals for making its regulations less burdensome by reviewing the continuing need for existing rules, following the President’s call for all agencies to take such action.  The FCC report, after making the seemingly obligatory bows to broadband adoption that the Commission seeks to foster, talked about many of the same issues that the Congressional committee seemed to be addressing – deleting unnecessary regulation wherever possible.  What changes will these efforts bring to the FCC?

Call me cynical, but I doubt that the proposed changes will really lead to any significant differences in the way that the FCC does business.  The FCC is already bound by all sorts of laws that demand that it take into account many of the same considerations that are included in the plans of Congress and the FCC.  The Paperwork Reduction Act has already stopped certain regulations from going into effect, including the Form 355 (which sat in limbo for 4 years and the FCC is only now considering reviving in a somewhat more abbreviated form).  The FCC also must take into account the Regulatory Flexibility Act, looking at the impact of any regulation on small entities who would be subject to any new rule.  Congress itself has already enacted other requirements that the FCC review regulations on a periodic basis – for instance the required Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s multiple ownership rules.  And what do these accomplish?


Continue Reading Congress and the Commission Look to Make FCC More Responsive and to Take Costs Into Account in Making New Rules – Will It Work?