On December 1 of this year, Biennial Ownership Reports are due to be filed at the FCC by all full-power radio and TV stations, commercial and noncommercial, as well as from Class A TV and LPTV operators.  These reports are due every two years.  While the last two biennial reports that had been due in December 2019 and in December 2017 had their deadlines extended to early the next year because of issues with the FCC forms that were at that point still being refined, no such issues are expected this year. In fact, a month ago when the window opened for filing these reports, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters of the filing deadline, emphasizing its importance, and issuing this warning that there may well be fines or other penalties for stations that do not timely file this required report:

Consistent with the importance of this information, Commission staff intends to pursue enforcement actions against licensees that fail to file their biennial ownership reports in a timely or complete manner. 

Why does the Commission collect this information?  Biennial ownership information not only keeps track for the public of who owns broadcast properties, but it also allows the Commission to track broadcast ownership.  In recent years, the reports ask for the gender and race/ethnicity of owners of stations (and control parties of noncommercial stations), and the Commission plans to use this information to track industry ownership trends.  This was an issue in the most recent change in the broadcast ownership rules, where the Third Circuit, before being overturned by the Supreme Court, had wanted the FCC to determine the impact of past changes in its ownership rules on minority and female ownership – and the FCC fought back, claiming that it did not have that information (see our article here).  These reports are one way in which such information is supposed to be provided by the FCC.
Continue Reading Less than a Month to Go – Reminder to Broadcasters to File Biennial Ownership Reports by December 1 or Potentially Face Penalties

In an order released last month which has not received much attention, the FCC clarified its requirements for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports. Much of the order deals with fixes to the report itself that will, for the most part, make the completion of the report administratively easier in terms of the physical data that needs to be entered into the form. However, certain new information-collection requirements call for broadcasters – both commercial and noncommercial – to start gathering information now from their attributable owners, including members of their governing boards, in order to enable the completion of the forms when they are next due to be filed, on December 1, 2017. We earlier wrote here about the FCC’s proposals in this proceeding (including the dazzling use of acronyms for various kinds of identification numbers assigned to attributable owners).

One of the principal purposes of the Biennial Ownership Reports is to gather information about the ownership and control of broadcast stations that will allow the FCC to slice and dice that information to use it to make decisions about issues like minority ownership in broadcasting and the concentration of broadcast ownership and control. Thus, the Biennial Reports gather information about race and gender of those with attributable interests in broadcast stations, and also about the interests those interest holders have in other stations. As we have written before, there have been complaints from some who have tried to analyze the information collected in the Biennial Reports that the data cannot be easily manipulated, particularly to track the ownership and control of individuals across multiple companies. Partially, this was attributed by the FCC to the failure of applicants to be able to get from all of their attributable owners information necessary to obtain an FRN (FCC Registration Number). That FRN was to be used to uniquely identify each holder of an attributable interest and track those individuals or entities through all of their media interests. In the past, there had been concerns that some interest holders were reluctant to provide the information necessary to get an FRN. The FCC has tried to remedy some of those concerns, and backed up their remedy with a suggestion that they will sanction interest holders who fail to provide the required information.
Continue Reading FCC Order on Biennial Ownership Requirements – All Broadcasters, Commercial and Noncommercial, Need to Start Collecting Information from Attributable Owners and Directors for Next Year’s Filing