retained interest in broadcast license

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

In a decision this week on the sale of radio stations by Univision Radio to Latino Media Network, the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau discussed the FCC’s longstanding prohibition on the seller of a broadcast station retaining a “reversionary interest” in the station it is selling.  In this case, FCC staff found that the intent of the buyer to enter into a Local Marketing Agreement by which the seller would program some of the stations after closing was not a reversionary interest, because the buyer was free to make programming decision for the stations as long as it retained ultimate control over that programming and station operations.  Had the LMA been a condition of the sale, or had it served as partial consideration for the sale, the FCC suggested that it would have violated the prohibition against revisionary interests. But as the seller did not make the LMA a condition of the sale, the post-closing decision to enter into an LMA was a programming decision under the control of the buyer and thus was not deemed to be a prohibited reversionary interest.  No matter what the holding of this case, a more fundamental question arises – what is a reversionary interest and why is it prohibited?

In reviewing our blog when writing this article, we noted that in the almost 17 years we have been publishing, we don’t seem to have ever referred specifically to the question of reversionary or retained interests in a broadcast station.  It is an issue that does not come up often, but it is related to another issue that we have written about before – the prohibition on a lender taking a security interest in a broadcast license (see, for instance, our two part article on security interests in broadcast licenses, here and here).  The prohibition on the right of reversion or retained interest in a broadcast license is set out in Section 73.1150 of the FCC rules, which states:

(a) In transferring a broadcast station, the licensee may retain no right of reversion of the license, no right to reassignment of the license in the future, and may not reserve the right to use the facilities of the station for any period whatsoever.

(b) No license, renewal of license, assignment of license or transfer of control of a corporate licensee will be granted or authorized if there is a contract, arrangement or understanding, express or implied, pursuant to which, as consideration or partial consideration for the assignment or transfer, such rights, as stated in paragraph (a) of this section, are retained.

The prohibition against the right of reversion, and the prohibition against a lender taking a security interest directly in a license, were both adopted by the FCC to implement Communications Act requirements that state that a broadcast license does not convey an ownership interest in the spectrum being used, but instead only confers on the license holder a right to use the spectrum that does not extend “beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.”  In adopting the prohibitions against a reversionary interest, and the prohibitions on taking a security interest in a license, the FCC believed that these interests would imply an ownership interest in the license akin to the ownership interest that one might hold in other forms of property that can be subject to leases, mortgages, and other security interests.  Thus, the restrictions were imposed over half a century ago.  But, since being implemented, the FCC has from time to time questioned whether these restrictions really were necessary.
Continue Reading FCC Decision Discusses Prohibition on Retaining Reversionary Interests in Broadcast Licenses After Sale – What Is a Reversionary Interest and Why Is It Prohibited?