I just finished speaking on a panel at the Radio Ink Convergence ’09 conference in San Jose.  My panel was called "The Distribution Dilemma: Opportunities, Partnership and Landmines."  As the legal representative, my role was, of course, to talk about the landmines.  And one occurred to me in the middle of the panel when a representative of Ibiquity, the HD Radio people, about one of the opportunities available for the multicast channels available in that system, where an FM radio operator can, on one FM station, send out two or three different digital signals.  The particular opportunity that was discussed was the ability to bring in outside programmers to program the digital channels, specifically talking about a recent deal where a broadcaster had entered into a deal with a company that would be brokering a digital channel in major markets, and programming that station with a format directed to the Asian communities.  Broadcasters are generally familiar with the fact that, when they broker their traditional analog broadcast station to a third party, the licensee remains responsible for the content that is delivered in that brokered programming – e.g. making sure that there are no payola, indecency, lottery or other legal issues that pop up in that brokered programming.  Broadcasters need to remember that that same responsibility applies to multicast streams, whether they are on HD radio or on a multicast stream broadcast by a digital television station.  These stream are over-the-air broadcast channels subject to all FCC programming rules.

Foreign language programming has traditionally presented programming issues for broadcasters.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there were multiple cases where broadcasters actually lost licenses because there was illegal activity taking place in brokered programming.  In these cases, the programming contained illegal content and the licensee had no way to monitor the content of the programs as the licensee had no one on staff who spoke the language in which the programming was produced.  The FCC basically said that the licensee had the responsibility to be able to monitor all programming broadcast on its station – so they had abdicated their responsibility to keep the station in compliance with FCC rules by not knowing what was being said in the brokered programming.


Continue Reading Caution on Multicast Streams – Remember It’s Still Over-the-Air Broadcasting

This week, an interesting concept has been advanced in a series of applications filed with the FCC.  Ion Media Networks, the successor to Paxson Television, has proposed to transfer some of its broadcast stations to a new company, Urban Television LLP, to be owned 51% by Robert Johnson, the former owner of BET, and 49% by Ion itself.  But, when we say that they are transferring "some" of its stations, we don’t mean that any of its stations are being transferred, but instead only that a piece of its stations are proposed to be transferred.  Ion proposes to continue to own and operate stations in every market where it currently operates, but proposes to sell digital multicast channels to Johnson. Unlike any LMA or other programming agreement, the proposal is to actually take one 6 MHz television channel and break it up so that Ion continues to program one channel with its programming and the Urban Television will program the other channel with its programming, and become the actual license of that portion of the spectrum.  The FCC has accepted the applications and issued a Public Notice, giving parties 30 days to file comments on the proposal. 

It is not unheard of for two licensees to share the same channel – though where it is currently occurs most frequently is in connection with noncommercial broadcasters who share a single radio or TV channel, they divide it by time, so that one licensee operates, say midnight to noon and the other operates from noon to midnight.  Obviously, in these shared-time arrangements, both broadcasters are not operating on the same channel at the same time.  This new proposal, though, does not come out of the blue.  The idea of allowing a broadcaster to sell a digital channel to a different company, has been proposed before, for both Digital Television and Digital HD Radio channels when the original station is multicasting, as a way to increase diversity of ownership.


Continue Reading Splitting a Television Station License – Ion and Robert Johnson Propose a Unique Concept for Increaing Media Ownership

The FCC today issued an order extending the comment deadline in its Broadcast Diversity proceeding, extending the comment date a full month until July 30, with Reply Comments now due on August 29.  This important proceeding, about which we wrote here, will address many issues, including proposals to, among other things, repurpose television

In recent weeks, Low Power Television stations have been the center of attention in Washington in connection with the Digital television transition.  While all full-power television stations are set to convert to digital operations less than a year from now, ceasing analog operations at the end of the day on February 17, 2009, there is no specific deadline for LPTV stations to convert to digital.  As the NTIA rolls out its coupon program for the purchase of converter boxes that will take digital signals of over-the-air television stations and convert them to analog for those who do not have digital television receivers (see our summary here), LPTV advocates noted that many converters do not pass through analog signals.  Thus, once a television is hooked up to a converter box, that television will not be able to pick up stations broadcasting in analog – so many unconverted LPTV stations after the conversion date will be denied access to television receivers.

Suggestions have been made that the converter boxes be reconfigured to pass through analog – unlikely as many of the boxes have already been manufactured and are on their way to stores (note that some converters do pass through analog signals, but a consumer needs to look for those boxes).  LPTV advocates have also asked for some form of cable must-carry during the transition process – a proposal sure to be opposed by cable system operators. 


Continue Reading The Trouble With LPTV – No Plan for DTV Transition

As we have written, here and here, the FCC recently commenced a proceeding to determine if it should adopt rules to require analog cable systems to carry digital television stations after the digital television conversion is complete in 2009.  The proceeding is also to determine what a cable system must do to ensure that there is

In one of those "from the depths of history" moments, the FCC on Friday released a Public Notice asking that the record be refreshed as to whether television stations that program a substantial amount of home shopping programming operate in the public interest, and whether they are entitled to must-carry status on cable systems.  In