shared services agreement

Since the start of the FCC’s examination of its multiple ownership rules in anticipation of its Quadrennial Review of these rules, the question of TV shared services agreements has been one raised by public interest groups, suggesting that combinations of local TV stations for news or sales purposes are not in the public interest

The FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its reexamination of its multiple ownership rules, suggesting limited changes in its rules governing the number of interests that one person or company can have in media outlets in a particular community.  The FCC’s tentative conclusions leave most of the current rules in place – including rules that limit the number of radio and TV stations that one entity can own in a market, and rules prohibiting combined ownership of daily newspapers and TV stations in the same market.  The Commission also proposed keeping the dual network rule, prohibiting the combination of any of the four major TV networks.  Shared Services Agreements were another issue addressed by the FCC – proposing to examine SSAs and and other news and program sharing agreements between otherwise independent stations.  The FCC did propose the abolition of one rule – the rule that currently limits the ownership of radio and TV stations in the same market.  In the NPRM, the FCC suggested that other ownership rules could be waived in some instances, so the details of waivers and exceptions could become an important aspect of any final decision in this proceeding.  All of these conclusions are tentative, and the Commission asks many questions about each of its tentative conclusions and asks for public comment on its ideas.  The public can formally weigh in with comments for 45 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, and file replies 30 days later.  After that, there is sure to be much lobbying of the Commissioners before any final decision is made.

This proceeding combines several on-going proceedings.  The Commission started its required Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules over two years ago with a series of public hearings, and a Notice of Inquiry.  The Commission also is dealing with the clean-up of its last review of the ownership rules, which was embodied in a controversial decision reached late in 2007 (see our summaries here and here).  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out significant parts of that decision, finding that the FCC’s relaxation of the newspaper-television rules had not been the subject of adequate notice to the public, and that the FCC had ignored its obligations to take steps to promote minority ownership of the media.  Some parties seeking repeal of the newspaper-television cross-ownership rules have asked the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit decision – but this NPRM looks to reexamine many of these issues in the event that the Supreme Court doesn’t otherwise preempt their decision.    Below we’ll take a look at specific questions raised by the NPRM.

Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Proposals Released By FCC – Abolish Radio-TV Cross-Ownership Rules, Leave Most Other Rules In Place, Examine Shared Services Agreements

In an eagerly anticipated case involving TV stations in the Honolulu market, the FCC’s Media Bureau determined that a programming swap that permitted one company to hold the licenses of both the NBC and CBS affiliates in a single market, and to also provide technical and office services and news programming to a third station in the market, was permissible under current rules.  However, the Commission warned that it would consider in its upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules whether similar situations should be permitted in the future, and seemingly implied that even this combination could be subject to further review in future licensing proceedings.  The permissibility of shared services agreements has been a question raised by public interest groups for quite some time (see our post here), and has also been raised by certain cable and satellite television operators as such combinations can result in one broadcaster negotiating carriage agreements for multiple stations in a market.  Based on this case, and the issues raised in connection with previous decisions, this will no doubt be a very controversial topic when the Commission considers the upcoming multiple ownership proceeding.

The Honolulu case began with one owner – Raycom – holding two licenses in the market – one an NBC affiliate, and the other an affiliate of the MyTV Network.  As there are 8 independently owned television stations serving Honolulu, the combination of these two stations, only one of which is a Top 4 station in the market, was permissible.  Raycom then entered into a deal with the owner of the local CBS affiliate, where the parties swapped call letters and network affiliations.  Raycom also purchased many of the non-license assets of the station, and received an option to purchase the station, and agreed to pay the licensee, over time, $22 million.  Raycom also entered into a shared services agreement with the owner of the station that had become the MyTV affiliate where Raycom would provide back office services, sales personnel, and a physical location for the station’s studio and transmitting antenna, in exchange for 30% of the stations revenues, and a flat monthly payment.  As detailed below, the Commission determined that the swap of call letters and network affiliations was not subject to review at this time as there was no licensing transaction before the FCC, and the shared services agreement did not violate current FCC policies.

Continue Reading FCC Says TV Shared Services Agreement and a Combination of Two Top 4 Network Affiliates in One Market is Permissible – For Now

The full text of the FCC’s Order overturning its 2007 decision on online public inspection files for TV broadcasters and the adoption of the Form 355 "enhanced disclosure form" has now been released.  This order, adopted at the FCC’s open meeting this week (held on October 27, 2011, which we wrote about here), also contains a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking again suggesting an online public file, but this time it would be one hosted by the FCC.  In reading the full text, more details of the FCC’s proposal become clear.  As set forth below, the Order suggests everything from a future application of these rules to radio once the bugs have been worked out, to an examination of whether a station needs to save Facebook posts and other social media comments in the same way that it preserves letters from the public and emails about station operations, to a proposal for stations to document in their files information about all "pay for play" sponsorships.  Comments on these proposals, and the others summarized below, which include a request for detailed information about the costs of compliance with the proposals, are due 30 days from when the order is published in the Federal Register, with Reply Comments due only 15 days thereafter.  The FCC, after sitting on these obligations for almost 5 years, now seems to be ready to move quickly. 

In reaching it’s decision, the order first discusses some proposals that it was rejecting – some for the time being.  For radio broadcasters, the most important of the rejected thoughts was the extension of this rule to radio.  The Commission noted that there were proposals pending and ripe for action as part of the Localism proceeding (which we summarized here), to extend the online public file obligations to radio.  In this week’s order, the FCC decided that it was not yet ready to apply these rules to radio.  The Commission noted that there might need to be differences in the rules for radio (implying that, at least partially, there might be resource issues making it difficult for radio broadcasters to comply with these rules), and also finding that it would be better to see how an online file works for TV before extending the rule to radio.  But, from the statements made in the Order, there is no question but that, at some point in the future, some form of the obligations that are proposed for TV will also be proposed for radio broadcasters. 

Also, it is important to note that the FCC’s Localism proceeding is not dead yet.  While this week’s Order stems from the FCC’s Future of Media Report (renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities), and that report recommended that the Localism proceeding be terminated, this Order did not do that.  The Commission notes its plans to start a new proceeding designed to force broadcasters to complete a more comprehensive report on their public interest programming.  That proceeding may be where the looming Localism proposals are finally dealt with.  Statements at the meeting and passages in the Order make clear that the examination of the public interest obligations for broadcasters will begin with a Notice of Inquiry, which is a most preliminary stage of an FCC proceeding (which would be followed by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking after the inquiry comments are reviewed) and then an Order.  So final resolution of these issues seem to be far down the road.  If that is the case, will the Localism proposals stay on the table until the Order in this new proceeding is adopted?  It is certainly unclear from the Commission’s statements thus far.

Continue Reading Text of Online Public File Order Released – Details of What the FCC is Considering, and Suggestion that Radio May Be Next

At its meeting today, the FCC vacated its 2007 Order mandating an online public file and the filing of the Form 355 “Enhanced Disclosure” form that detailed the public interest service of television broadcasters. But these requirements are not gone, as the Commission has adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking to reinstate an obligation for an online public file, and a Notice of Inquiry is apparently circulating at the FCC that would propose a substitute for the Form 355. The proposal for the new online public file apparently also suggests including new information in the online file, including information about sponsorship identification and copies of shared service agreements. While the text of the FCC order is not yet out, from the information provided at the FCC meeting, the following matters appear to be on the table at the FCC:

  • The FCC proposes that TV broadcasters will need to have an online public file, submitted to and maintained on servers at the FCC rather than on each individual station’s website
    • Several Commissioners suggest that the Commission will develop a mechanism for accessible storage of online public files, which may be searchable by the public
    • The online public file form will automatically import other FCC filings that are required to be in the file
    • Until the FCC electronic database is perfected, the documents will be placed online in their current formats
  • Letters from the public concerning station operations are proposed to be excluded from the online file out of privacy concerns, though broadcasters will still need to keep those letters in a public file at the station.
  • The online public file is proposed to include the political file, which was exempt under the 2007 rule as it would be too burdensome to update that report rapidly during an election season
  • The online file is proposed to include additional material not now required to be in the public file, including:
    • Copies of shared services agreements
    • Sponsorship identification information that is now only broadcast on air in connection with the program in which sponsored material is included
  • The FCC is currently considering a Notice of Inquiry, a draft of which is apparently circulating among the Commissioners now, that proposes some form of enhanced disclosure form that will replace the Form 355 (and the current Quarterly Programs Issues list) to document the public service provided by TV broadcasters


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Revised Rules for Online Public File – Including Political File – and Discusses the Public Interest Obligations of TV Stations

FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker recently delivered a speech in Washington, DC, where she addressed calls for the government to take action to assist the traditional media deal with the economic issues brought about by the new media.  From time to time, there have been calls for the government to assist the traditional media, either through some sort of direct subsidies, or through regulatory changes that could assist in their news coverage to make these entities competitive in the new media world.  While the Commissioner’s speech did not detail those efforts, calls have, for the most part, not suggested direct government subsidies to support traditional news media sources.  Instead, more indirect efforts have been suggested to insure that these media sources continue to serve their communities.  Calls have been made to change tax laws to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofit entities (while still soliciting advertising).  In a draft FTC option paper, there was a suggestion of taxing commercial media to provide more support to noncommercial public broadcasting entities.  Other proposals have been more direct – simply mandating more news and public affairs programming from broadcasters (with little or no discussion of the source of the revenues for such mandates).  In her speech, the Commissioner noted that some suggestions may be forthcoming from the FCC’s own Future of Media report due at the end of the year (see our summary of the issues that they are exploring here), but she seemed to rule out these types of proposals, instead suggesting that the Commission could assist companies meet the new media challenge by loosening FCC restrictions on ownership.

The Commissioner suggested that no government action to bail out the media is necessary to preserve service to the public – citing the many examples of how that service is provided through new media sites that serve all sorts of communities and community groups – providing timely and detailed information on specific topics, often on a neighborhood level.  We have made that same point on these pages – the new media is already filling any void that may exist in local media coverage.  Some of these sites are produced by old media companies – as TV stations, newspapers and others develop microsites targeted to very local needs and interests.  Other sites are totally independent – developed by local interest groups or new media entrepreneurs.  So how can the Commission help these sites to develop?

Continue Reading FCC Commissioner Baker Suggests No Government Support for Media, But Possible Relaxation of Broadcast Ownership Rules

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Multiple Ownership has been published in the Federal Register, setting July 12, 2010 as the deadline for comments, with July 26 as the deadline for reply filings.   We previously outlined many of the questions asked in the wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry. The questions deal with the entire spectrum of media ownership issues, from asking questions about how the new media landscape changes the considerations given to media ownership restrictions, to inquiries into the way in which the consumer gets needed news and information programming from broadcast outlets, and the impact of consolidation on that information.  Filing comments in this proceeding before the deadline will help to shape the discussion that will occur. The FCC claims to be intent on finishing its review of the ownership during this calender year but, as the comments in this proceeding must be distilled into more specific proposals to be reflected in a subsequent  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which must itself be subject to public comment, this would seem a very ambitious task given that there will be less than 6 months remaining after the comments are replies on the NOI are submitted. Nevertheless, the short 30 day comment period on the NOI seems designed to speed review – so time is short for interested parties to draft and submit meaningful comments on the fundamental and wide-ranging questions that are being asked..

Further highlighting the difficulty in completing the ownership review this year, is the FCC’s Public Notice that was just released – announcing that it is seeking bids for nine different studies to review various issues relevant to the media ownership proceeding. According to the Public Notice, studies will look at many of the issues on which the Commission has sought comment in the NOI, including studies of how consumers receive local news and information, the effect that media consolidation affects the diversity of programming and the degree of civic engagement in a community, and even requesting a study to design a model to be used to measure the degree of media consolidation in a market.  the Commission also asked for suggestions as to other studies that it could conduct relevant to this proceeding.  Comments on other potential areas of study are due by July 7.

Continue Reading Comments Due July 12 on Multiple Ownership Notice of Inquiry – And FCC Solicits Bids for Proposed Media Ownership Studies

In recent years, as competition in the video marketplace has become more intense, in a number of broadcast television markets, competing stations have teamed up to combine certain of their operations to achieve economies while still allowing for some degree of independence of programming.  Under these "shared services agreements", one station will provide back-office support and often advertising sales for another station in the market.  Where the station providing the support programs less than 15% of the programming hours of the station being supported, the contractual arrangement is not "attributable under the FCC’s multiple ownership rules.  Thus, these services can be provided in circumstances where the supported station could not be owned by the station that is providing the services.  Nevertheless, a number of these arrangements have been under attack from public interest groups, and recent Commission actions indicate that the FCC may well be reviewing its position on these sorts of agreements.

A few weeks ago, in approving an application which provided for a shared service agreement between two television stations in the same market (over the objection of a competitor), the FCC noted that it was approving the deal as consistent with its rules as they are currently enforced, but warned that the arrangements would be reviewed as part of the FCC’s review of its multiple ownership rules – a review which is to take place this year.  This week, the FCC agreed to treat a case in Hawaii, which has generated much controversy and press coverage, as a "permit but disclose" proceeding, meaning that parties are not confined to the usual process of arguing their cases through written submissions served on all parties (or meetings at which all parties are present).  Instead, interested parties can now meet with FCC decision-making staff (including FCC commissioners) on their own, as long as they file an "ex parte" notice in the record summarizing the presentations that they made.  This process is usually used only for high-profile decisions with potential far-reaching impact or where new policy is potentially to be made. 

Continue Reading More Indications of FCC Review of TV Shared Services Agreements

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