Most years, at some point in January, we look into our crystal ball and try to see some of the legal and regulatory issues likely to face broadcasters.  We already provided a calendar of the routine regulatory filings that are due this year (see our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar).  But not on that calendar are the policy issues that will affect the regulatory landscape in the coming year, and into the future.  This year, the biggest issue will no doubt be the November election.  Obviously, broadcasters must deal with the many day-to-day issues that arise in an election year including the rates to be charged political candidates, the access to airtime afforded to those candidates, and the challenges associated with the content of issue advertising that non-candidate groups seek to transmit to the public.  The election in November will also result in a President being inaugurated in just less than a year – which could signal a continuation of the current policies at the FCC or potentially send the Commission in a far different direction.  With the time that the election campaigns will demand from Congress, and its current attention to the impeachment, Congress is unlikely to have time to tackle much broadcast legislation this year.

The broadcast performance royalty is one of those issues likely on hold this year.  While it was recently re-introduced in Congress (see our article here), it is a struggle for any copyright legislation to get through Congress and, in a year like the upcoming one, moving a bill like the controversial performance royalty likely will likely not be high on the priorities of Congressional leaders.  This issue will not go away – it will be back in future Congresses – so broadcasters still need to consider a long-term strategy to deal with the issue (see, for instance, our article here on one such strategy that also helps resolve some of the music royalty issues we mention later in this article).
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SESAC was, until recently, the only one of the three major performing rights organizations (PROs) that was not subject to an antitrust consent decree – meaning that it could set the rates that it wanted without any oversight by any court or other judicial body. For practical purposes, that ended when the radio and television industries separately sued SESAC claiming antitrust violations. Both the radio and TV industries felt that the SESAC royalties were too high in relation to those charged by ASCAP and BMI given the far greater amount of music controlled by these two larger PROs. As we wrote here (television) and here (radio), both antitrust cases ended with settlements where SESAC agreed that its rates would be subject to review by an arbitration panel to assure their reasonableness, if voluntary negotiations between the groups representing the industries and SESAC were not successful in arriving at mutually agreeable rates. So far, it appears that the rate-setting process for radio and TV are going in different directions.

The TV Music License Committee and SESAC have announced that they have reached an agreement in principle as to rates for the TV industry. See the press release here. While the agreement has not been finalized or made public, if negotiations of the final documents are successful, the TV industry and SESAC appear to avoid having their rates set by the arbitration process. So far, that does not seem to be the case for the radio industry.
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