network nonduplication

The agenda is out, and the FCC’s likely action on their Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules now seems to be much clearer.  And the decision seems likely to follow the rumors circulating in Washington for weeks (about which we have written here and here), with new regulatory wrinkles added to those previously suggested.  According to a blog post by the FCC Chairman, the plans are for the FCC to attribute JSAs where one TV broadcaster sells more than 15% of the ad time on another station in its market (meaning that such a JSA is only permissible if the stations can be commonly owned).  In addition, the Commission will prohibit TV non-commonly owned TV stations from jointly negotiating retransmission consent agreements with cable and satellite TV providers.  A further review of Shared Services Agreement is apparently in the works as well.  The Commission will apparently do nothing about the FCC’s cross-ownership rules, leaving in place rules prohibiting joint newspaper-broadcast cross ownership and even radio-TV cross-ownership rules, asking for comments on a proposal to actually retain those rules in a new Quadrennial Review that it will start on March 31. 

Retransmission consent is also on the agenda.  The agenda indicates that not only will the Commission ban joint negotiation of retransmission consent fees by stations involved in a JSA, but it will seek more information on other issues involved in the relationship between broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers).  Specifically, the Commission will look at whether to repeal the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules which prohibit MVPDs from importing TV signals that infringe on the exclusive rights held by a local station to network and syndicated programming.  Were these rules to be abolished, to the extent that retransmission agreements permit it, distant signals might be imported by an MVPD when the MVPD and local television station were having a retransmission dispute, lessening the leverage of the local station from its ability to withhold its programming. 
Continue Reading FCC March 31 Agenda to Consider TV JSAs and Retransmission Consent Issues – Lots of Controversy for TV Broadcasters

The Commission’s recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making exploring possible changes to the television retransmission consent rules has now been published in the Federal Register setting the date for Comments as May 27th, with Reply Comments due by June 27.  As we wrote about recently (here), the FCC has commenced a rule making

Among the many items adopted by the Commission at last week’s open meeting was a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding retransmission consent agreements and the carriage of broadcast television stations by cable and satellite providers.  Retransmission consent has been a hot topic of late both in Washington and in the national press.  During the past year, a few carriage negotiations between broadcast television stations and cable or satellite operators have resulted in interruptions – or threats of interruptions – in the carriage of local stations.  As a result, both Congress and the public have paid increasing attention to retransmission consent negotiations, and the Commission’s NPRM is a effort to review some aspects of its rules governing the relationship between local broadcast stations and the cable and satellite providers that retransmit their signals.  A copy of the NPRM is available here

The NPRM is the outgrowth of a petition for rule making filed in March 2010 by cable and satellite providers, along with several public interest groups.  These groups jointly petitioned the FCC seeking significant changes to the current retransmission consent process.  Perhaps the most notably aspect of last week’s NPRM is not the changes the FCC proposes, but rather the changes it refrains from pursuing.  The Commission states in the NPRM that it does not believe that it has the authority to adopt either interim carriage mechanisms – to require the continued carriage of a station without a station owner’s consent while negotiations continue – or mandatory binding dispute resolution procedures for retransmission consent negotiations, both of which were proposed by the cable and satellite providers in their petition for rule making.  In both cases, the Commission found that it lacked the statutory authority to pursue the rule changes proposed by the petitioners. 

While it proposes to refrain from action on those two elements of the petition for rule making, the Commission does propose to review several aspects of its rules in an effort to, in its words, "protect the public from, and decrease the frequency of, retransmission consent negotiation impasses within our existing statutory authority."   To that end, the NPRM seeks input on strengthening the good faith negotiation rules, including whether it would be  per se violation of the good faith negotiation rules for a station to give a network with which it is affiliated the right to negotiate for carriage, or for a station to grant another station or station group the right to negotiate for carriage, such as when a station is party to a local marketing agreement (LMA) or joint sales agreement (JSA).  In addition, the NPRM proposes changes to the notice requirements of its carriage rules to require advance notice to consumers if there is the possibility that a station will be dropped from a providers’ programming line up.  This advance notice would allow consumers to make alternative plans if negotiations ultimately fail and a station’s signal is deleted from the lineup.Continue Reading FCC to Take a Fresh Look at Retransmission Consent Rules Governing Carriage of Broadcast Television Stations