This week, an interesting concept has been advanced in a series of applications filed with the FCC.  Ion Media Networks, the successor to Paxson Television, has proposed to transfer some of its broadcast stations to a new company, Urban Television LLP, to be owned 51% by Robert Johnson, the former owner of BET, and 49% by Ion itself.  But, when we say that they are transferring "some" of its stations, we don’t mean that any of its stations are being transferred, but instead only that a piece of its stations are proposed to be transferred.  Ion proposes to continue to own and operate stations in every market where it currently operates, but proposes to sell digital multicast channels to Johnson. Unlike any LMA or other programming agreement, the proposal is to actually take one 6 MHz television channel and break it up so that Ion continues to program one channel with its programming and the Urban Television will program the other channel with its programming, and become the actual license of that portion of the spectrum.  The FCC has accepted the applications and issued a Public Notice, giving parties 30 days to file comments on the proposal. 

It is not unheard of for two licensees to share the same channel – though where it is currently occurs most frequently is in connection with noncommercial broadcasters who share a single radio or TV channel, they divide it by time, so that one licensee operates, say midnight to noon and the other operates from noon to midnight.  Obviously, in these shared-time arrangements, both broadcasters are not operating on the same channel at the same time.  This new proposal, though, does not come out of the blue.  The idea of allowing a broadcaster to sell a digital channel to a different company, has been proposed before, for both Digital Television and Digital HD Radio channels when the original station is multicasting, as a way to increase diversity of ownership.


Continue Reading Splitting a Television Station License – Ion and Robert Johnson Propose a Unique Concept for Increaing Media Ownership

The FCC last week approved two television "Shared Services Agreements," here and here, each between the proposed Buyer of a television station and a company that owns another television station in the same market.  In each case, the existing owner would sell advertising time for the station being purchased, as well as provide a loan guaranty for the funds necessary for the purchase of the station.  And the station already in the market would receive from the purchaser of the new station an option to purchase the station in the future, if that purchase is permitted under some future set of multiple ownership rules.  It is interesting that these decisions were released in the same week as the FCC issued two requests for public comment on the multiple ownership rules (see our post here).

These decisions probably mark the outside limit of what two stations can do in a television market where they cannot be co-owned without triggering multiple ownership concerns.  In the radio world, such agreements would not be possible to the same extent.  A radio licensee who provides sales services for another station in the same market, where more than 15% of the advertising time on the station is sold pursuant to such an agreement, would result in an "attributable interest," meaning that such services could only be provided to a station that could be owned under the multiple ownership rules. 


Continue Reading An Option, A Guaranty, and a Shared Services Agreement – OK By the FCC