Last week, the Senate approved a reauthorization of STELA, the new bill called STELAR (the “STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014”), adopting the version that had been approved by the House of Representatives earlier in the month.  In addition to simply giving satellite television companies (essentially DISH and DirecTV) the a five-year extension of their rights to rebroadcast the signals of over-the-air television stations without authorization from every copyright holder of the programming broadcast on those stations, STELAR made other changes to both the Communications and Copyright Acts that will have an impact on TV station operators once this bill is signed by the President.  The Presidential signing is expected before the end of the year.  [Update, 12/5/2014 the President signed the Bill yesterday evening, so it is now law]

Some of the important provisions for TV stations contained in this bill include provisions that impact not only the relationship between TV stations and satellite TV companies, but also ones that have a broader impact on the relationship of TV stations with all MVPDs, including cable systems. There is also a provision actually providing more latitude for LPTV stations to negotiate carriage agreements.  Some of the specific provisions of this bill include:

JSA Extension:  STELAR will give TV stations currently operating with a Joint Sales Agreement with another station in their market which they cannot own under the current multiple ownership rules 6 more months to terminate such operations – until December 19, 2016 (after the next Presidential election).  See our discussion of the changes in JSA attribution here and here.
Continue Reading Congress Passes STELAR – Renewing Authorization of Satellite Carriers Carriage of TV Stations – With Some Important Changes to JSA, Retransmission Consent and Market Modification Rules

The FCC just issued a Report to Congress concerning the access of television viewers to in-state television stations.  This report was requested by Congress as part of STELA (the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act), which extended the compulsory license for direct to home satellite television operators (DISH and DirecTV) – a license which gives them copyright clearances to retransmit all the programming transmitted by the broadcast television stations that they make available as part of their service packages.  Congress also requested a Report from the Copyright Office on the need for the compulsory license – a report also issued this week, which we will write about in another article.  The issue of access to in-state television stations has been a controversial issue, as several Congressmen have sought (and in a few cases actually received) legislative authority for cable providers to carry out-of-market television stations on cable systems serving areas in one state that are part of television markets where the television stations come from a different state.  The report refers to these areas as "orphan counties."  Once legislative authority was granted in one state, many other bills popped up in Congress trying for the same relief in their state – causing concern that the existing television markets (or Designated Market Areas or "DMAs", designated by the Nielsen Company) might be undermined.  To see what impact such changes would have, Congress requested this report from the FCC.

The report for the most part does not make recommendations, but instead simply provides information about the service provided to US television viewers, the potential options for bringing an in-state service to all viewers, and the issues that such proposals would raise. Perhaps the most interesting fact revealed by the report is that 99.98% of all US television households already have access to an in-state television station, either over-the-air or through a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (e.g. cable or satellite TV system), so this is a very isolated issue.  However,when the FCC sought comments on the issues discussed in the report, a number of individuals in particular DMAs responded about situations where they could not get access to in-state television stations and asked that something be done.  The report assesses the implications of any action that could be taken.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Report to Congress on Access to In-State Television Programming

On Wednesday, Congress passed the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA), which extends the blanket copyright license allowing satellite television providers to deliver distant signals to "unserved" viewers who are unable to receive a signal from their local network affiliate.  The Act extends that blanket license for five more years until December 31, 2014.  Enactment of this bill (assuming President Obama signs it into law) will essentially extend the current blanket license scheme — which previously expired on December 31, 2009, and which had been hastily extended temporarily a couple of times this year — that governs the importation of distant signals.  Although the Act did not tackle many of the issues that had been raised and debated regarding satellite television and the rebroadcast of local station over the past six months, the final bill does allow Dish Network to get back into the business of rebroadcasting distant signals directly, instead of through a third party.  In exchange for this change in the law, Dish Network has committed to delivering local television signals into the remaining dozen or so markets in which it doesn’t provide local-into-local service presently.  By virtue of this trade, Dish will likely become the first satellite television provider to offer local TV stations via satellite in all 210 markets in the country.

One subtle, but potentially very significant change for broadcast stations is the fact that the rule changes the definition of what constitutes an "unserved household".  Today, the law defines an unserved household (i.e., one that would be entitled to the importation of a distant signal) as:  "…a household that cannot receive, through the use of a conventional, stationary, outdoor rooftop receiving antenna, an over-the-air signal of a primary network station affiliated with that network…"  47 USC 119(d)(10)(A).  Now, however, the STELA Act changes that definition to simply state that an unserved household is one that:  "…cannot receive, through the use of an antenna, an over-the-air signal…"  Changing the definition to reception simply by "an antenna" instead of a "conventional, station, outdoor rooftop receiving antenna" would appear to mean that Congress has just extended the definition of unserved households to include those that cannot receive an adequate signal using rabbit ear antennas, not one that can’t receive a signal using a 30-foot, fixed, outdoor antenna.  This could lead to a significant change in the provision of distant signals and potentially eat away at a station’s protected service area.  How exactly this plays out and whether or not it allows the satellite providers to bring distant signals to households previously considered "served" remains to be seen. 


Continue Reading Congress Passes STELA Act Extending Satellite Television Provisions and Changing the Definition of Unserved Household