September is one of those few months of the year where there are no regular FCC filing deadlines – no quarterly issues programs lists, no children’s television reports, no annual EEO public file reports, and no ownership reports or renewal deadlines.  For TV stations that recently filed a renewal, or which are about to file one, there are the pre-or post-filing notices.  But for most broadcasters, the one routine regulatory deadline in September (which has, in the past, sometimes fallen in August), is the obligation to pay annual regulatory fees.  But, so far, the FCC has not released the Order officially stating what those fees will be, or the Notice setting the filing deadlines – though we expect these notices any day (perhaps any moment).  As the fees need to be paid before the start of the FCC’s new fiscal year on October 1, expect that those fees will be due at some point before the end of September.

While there are few of these routine filing deadlines in September (though broadcasters should, of course, be preparing for the due date for many of these reports in early October), there are a number of important proceedings with September comment dates, appeal deadlines or other important milestones.  And there is the start of the Lowest Unit Rate window for the November election.  Some of the September deadlines are summarized below.
Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Regulatory Fees, Lowest Unit Rates, and Comments on Multiple Ownership, Online Public File for Radio and MVPDs, Music Licensing and Class C4 FM Stations

Only two weeks ago, we were writing about the FCC’s consideration of TV Joint Sales and Shared Service Agreements (or “side-car arrangements” as some have called them) as being an issue that was just being reviewed at the FCC by the new Chairman and his staff.  Now, according to press reports (including this one), the exploration has quickly moved much further – so far that we apparently will see FCC action in the very near future on these very controversial subjects.  The rumors suggest that the FCC is ready to resolve many of the issues in the current Quadrennial Review of its multiple ownership rules (see our summary of the issues initially raised in that proceeding here) at its March open meeting. According to these rumors, the FCC will prohibit Joint Sales Agreements for television stations in situations where the two stations involved cannot be commonly owned under the FCC’s multiple ownership rules, and at the same time do nothing to relax the broadcast- newspaper cross-ownership restrictions.  This is much the same result on JSAs that was rumored in December 2012, but a harsher result on the cross-ownership issue than the previous FCC Chair was rumored to be ready to take.  In 2012, the proceeding was put on hold to take more comments on the effect of a change in the cross-interest policy on minority ownership (see our article here), and it has sat there since.  This week’s rumors suggest that, as part of the same action (or through a simultaneous action), the FCC will ask about the public interest benefits and harms of Shared Services Agreements in the TV industry.

For investors in television companies and the general public, these rumored actions raise many questions.  How can the FCC take such a decision on the JSA/SSA issue when such agreements have become an integral part of the TV business over the last few years?  What is the difference between a JSA and an SSA?  How can the FCC not recognize that newspapers are in difficult economic times, and some degree of consolidation may well help these economics?  Does the FCC recognize that the media landscape in broadcasting has changed dramatically in the last few years?
Continue Reading TV Shared Service and Joint Sales Agreements Back in the News – Is the FCC Poised to Act Soon, and To Also Reject Relaxation of Broadcast-Newspaper Cross-Ownership?

It is the beginning of another year – and a time to look ahead to look ahead at what broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington’s alphabet soup of regulatory agencies in the near future.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

Each January, we publish a list of issues for the coming year, and it is not always the case that these issues make it to the top of various piles (literal or figurative) that sit in various offices at the FCC.  As set forth below, there are a number of FCC proceedings that remain open, and could be resolved this year.  But just as often, a good number of these issues sit unresolved to be included, once again, on our list of issues for next year.  While some issues are almost guaranteed to be considered, others are a crap shoot as to whether they will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items. So this list should not be seen as a definitive list of what will be considered by the FCC this year, but instead as an alert as to 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.
Continue Reading What’s Up in Washington For Broadcasters in 2014? — Part 1, FCC Issues

Sometimes the FCC decisions come out in a flurry, often with little nuggets of importance in each one.  Rather than trying to write about each one, we’ll from time to time, just try to highlight those nuggets for your consideration.  At the end of last week, three decisions came out with just such nuggets – all dealing with different issues.  The first case involved the issue of divestiture trusts – trusts set up to hold broadcast assets when a buyer of broadcast properties, usually in connection with the acquisition of a broadcast group, needs to divest some stations so that the buyer remains in compliance with the multiple ownership rules (usually in radio where the attribution of LMAs and JSAs make impossible divestitures like those used in television, to parties with no connection to the buyer but operating with a Shared Services or Joint Sales agreement).  In the past, the FCC has not put any limit on how long the stations could remain in a divestiture trust, with some stations spending 5 or 6 years (or longer) in such trusts before they are finally sold.  This case involved an acquisition of a large number of radio stations by Townsquare Media from Cumulus.  Here, the Commission established a two year limit on period of time that the trust could hold the stations placed in its care.  Thus, the trustee needs to divest of those stations within that period.  We would not be surprised to see that limit imposed on any trusts created in the future – perhaps even on some longstanding trusts still in place when they are subject to renewal applications, where such trusts have been challenged from time to time.

In TV, often stations that cannot be owned by a broadcaster who is buying another station in the same market consistent with the multiple ownership rules are not sold through a trust, but instead they are sometime bought by an independent party who can support the station through some sort of Joint Sales or Shared Services Agreements with the buyer.  In one of those cases, the continuation of an existing Shared Services Agreement was challenged in connection with the sale of the brokering station held by Young Broadcasting to Media General.  The FCC again (as they have in many cases before, see for instance our article here), held that the sale was permissible and that the SSA could continue after the sale.  The brokering station did supply news to the brokered station, but it was under 15% of the program time, and thus not attributable.  The brokered station continued to have a financial incentive to operate the station successfully, keeping 70% of the cash flow of the station.  And the mere fact that the owner of the brokering station guaranteed the debt of the brokered station did not make that interest attributable to the broker.  Note, however, that the Commission did question the staffing of the brokered station but, as that station was not being transferred as part of the sale before the FCC, the Commission said that they would review that issue in connection with the license renewal of the brokered station.  Shared Service Agreements are also under consideration in the current Quadrennial review of the FCC’s multiple ownership rules (see our stories here and here ).  So some of these issues may be revisited again in the not too distant future, when the new FCC Chair decides to complete that review.
Continue Reading Odds and Ends – Divestiture Trusts, Shared Services Agreements and Determinations of Significantly Viewed Stations

What will be the issues that broadcasters need to be concerned about in next year’s Media Ownership proceeding?  To get a clue, broadcasters should watch and listen to the second day of the FCC workshop on multiple ownership, featuring members of various public interest groups in Washington the week before last (watch it on the FCC website, here).  These workshops, as we wrote here, were held to start the process on the Commission’s upcoming Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules.   The representatives who testified on this panel discussed the issues that they thought should be reviewed, and facts that they thought should be collected, in order for the Commission to successfully complete the ownership review required by Congress.  As these Washington "insiders" are sure to be the ones filing comments in the proceeding and lobbying the Commission on the issues, the agenda of these organizations are likely to set the grounds for debate in the upcoming proceeding.  From watching this hearing, there are bound to be a number of contentious issues that will come up.

The panel was made up of representatives of five different Washington public interest groups – four that tend to favor more regulation and less consolidation.  The representative of the fifth organization, suggesting just the opposite – that in the new media world, little or no media ownership regulation is necessary.  While much of the discussion was process-oriented, there was discussion of specific issues that might come up in the review.  Both the process – which included extensive discussion of the need for detailed industry information for informed regulation to take place – and the substance could cause problems for broadcasters.  Substantive issues discussed included the need for more scrutiny of shared services agreements in the television world (as some saw these as a way of evading the FCC ownership regulations), and for ways to insure that there is more local programming as part of the process. One representative also mentioned the need to review noncommercial broadcasting as part of the ownership proceeding – which is usually restricted to a review of commercial operations.


Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Workshops Start to Identify Issues for Quadrennial Review – Shared Services Agreements and Local Origination To Be Focus of Public Interest Groups