newspaper television ownership

Next week, on August 6, the FCC will be taking the initial comments on its Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules – looking at what limitations should be placed on the ownership of broadcast stations by one individual or company.  As we have written, this Review follows the FCC’s resolution of the last Quadrennial Review, started in 2011, where the FCC made joint sales agreements between TV stations in the same market “attributable interests” – meaning that you can’t enter into a JSA unless you can own that station under the rules.  All of the other issues on the local ownership rules – including whether to change the rules setting the number of radio or TV stations that can be owned in a single market, and whether the rules against the same market cross-ownership of radio and TV stations, and of daily newspapers and broadcast stations should be modified – were pushed back to this new Review, which is not supposed to be finally decided for another two years.  While we wrote about some of the hidden nuggets in this proceeding in defining radio and TV markets here, let’s look a little deeper at some of the other issues involved in the review – today the local TV ownership rules.  In advance of next week’s comment deadline, there has already been much relevant regulatory action this past week – including the FCC’s approval of the Sinclair’s acquisition of the Allbritton TV stations (but only after Sinclair agreed to surrender to the FCC for cancellation TV stations licenses in two markets as its ownership of those stations would not be allowed under the current rules), and a GAO report addressing Shared Services Agreements between TV stations.

Currently, the FCC allows an owner to hold one TV license in a market, except in certain limited circumstances where two can be owned.  An ownership combination is allowed in the normal course only where there would be eight independently owned stations left in the market after the combination, and only where the combining stations are not both Top 4 stations in the market.  The Commission does also allow some combinations where one of the stations is “failing,” but that is looked at only on a case-by-case waiver basis.  Many broadcasters have argued that, particularly in small markets where there is insufficient revenue to support multiple fully competitive stations, greater consolidation should be allowed.  But the Commission has tentatively rejected that idea in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the new Quadrennial Review.  Why?  Seemingly, small market consolidation was not favored on the simple theory that consolidation is bad, and on the hope that, if the FCC forbids consolidation (and stops any sort of sharing arrangement, like the JSAs that it has already prohibited, and the Shared Services Agreements that it has suggested in this proceeding need to be further limited), minorities and other new entrants will enter the market.  Both of this week’s events – the Sinclair acquisition and the GAO report, seem to cut against the FCC’s beliefs.
Continue Reading Comments on Quadrennial Review of FCC’s Broadcast Ownership Rules due Next Week – Local TV Ownership Issues Highlighted By GAO Report and Sinclair Acquisition Approval

In an unusual action, Commissioner Michael Copps last week publicly released a letter he wrote to Chairman Martin ( whose office is just down the hall from Copps’ office on the Eighth Floor of the FCC’s headquarters in Washington) urging the Chairman to initiate a proceeding to determine if the News Corporation’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal is in the public interest.  Copps points to the fact that the company currently owns another daily newspaper published in New York (the New York Post) as well as two full power television stations (WWOR and WNYW) in the market.  While recognizing that the FCC has previously ruled that national newspapers should not be counted for purposes of the FCC’s newspaper- broadcast cross ownership limitations which currently bar local ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspapers in the same area.  This exception for national papers was principally decided in connection with Gannett’s USA Today, headquartered in the Washington DC area, where Gannett also owns a TV station.  Copps argues that, despite the USA Today precedent, this situation nevertheless demands further review for two reasons: 1) the local concentration of two TV stations and two widely-read local newspapers and 2) the national concentration that will result in two of the five most widely read newspapers in the country being commonly owned with one of the four major television networks, as well as the owner of many other outlets of communication spread throughout the country.

One seemingly unique aspect of the Copps request is that he is asking that the FCC investigate the acquisition of a newspaper, over which the FCC has no direct jurisdiction.  In fact, in the past, TV companies have purchased newspapers that they could not own consistent with the cross-ownership rules, with the understanding that they would divest one of these interests by the time that the next license renewal for the television station came up (or ask for a waiver of the rules at that time).  This would be necessary as the FCC would have jurisdiction over the duopoly through the renewal application.  In recent years, there have been companies which have bought newspapers in their television markets, taking the risk that, by the time the television station renewal was filed, the FCC’s cross-ownership rules would have changed.  And they are now left pursuing waivers in connection with their renewal applications.  In this case, while the FCC would not have jurisdiction over the acquisition of the Journal, they would have jurisdiction over the pending TV renewal applications.Continue Reading Copps Calls for FCC Proceeding to Consider News Corporation’s Acquisition of Wall Street Journal