TV sidecar arrangement

While we hate to turn this into the JSA/SSA blog, it appears that events are moving quickly on that front, so there is seemingly some news almost every day.  The week before last, the big news was comments of the Department of Justice filed with the FCC, suggesting that Joint Sales Agreements be attributable (meaning that they should count for multiple ownership purposes. i.e. you can’t do a JSA with another station in your market unless you can own that station), and that the FCC review Shared Services Agreements and similar arrangements on a case-by-case basis.  This is pretty much the position that the FCC’s new Chairman was expected to take, based on rumors floating around Washington (see our article here).  The way that the trade press reacted to the filing of the DOJ’s comments was an expectation that the “fix is in,” so that the expected action at the March FCC meeting was now a foregone conclusion.  But this past week has been filled with stories about broadcasters making the case that there is more to consider here, and late last week came an public filing from NABOB (the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters), summarizing positions it took in a meeting with FCC Commissioners last week, to, prehpas reluctantly, support at least some limited continuation of these agreements as they could be a force for promoting minority ownership of broadcast stations.

The DOJ’s comments certainly did say that they supported the attribution of JSAs, though the reasoning of that determination was not especially compelling or even internally consistent.  The DOJ recognized that some JSAs could actually be beneficial to competition.  Even though they recognized the potential benefits of JSAs, because they had supported the attribution of JSAs for radio, over 15 years ago, and as any agreements between competitors had the potential for impeding competition in a market, they contended that JSAs should be attributable.  As TV NewCheck put it in a very good article published on Friday, the DOJ’s reasoning is “so 1997.” But beyond that, had the DOJ’s brief not been signed by the DOJ, there would have been numerous reasons for the Commission to give it little weight in its consideration of JSAs and SSAs
Continue Reading TV Joint Sales and Shared Services Agreements – NABOB, The Public Interest Benefits, and Where the DOJ Went Wrong

TV Shared Services Agreements have been one of the targets of public interest groups since the start of the current Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s multiple ownership rules (see our articles here, here, here and here).  Public interest groups, in their zeal to stop any media consolidation (including newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership – even if that prohibition ends up outliving the newspaper itself, see our article here), have seen Shared Services Agreements as end-arounds on the FCC’s in-market television ownership caps, even though such deals may be necessary to preserve competitive, quality TV stations in smaller television markets.  Certain cable operators have also opposed these combinations (sometimes called “sidecar” arrangements), fearing that they will give TV station operators more power in retransmission consent negotiations.  There has recently been a flurry of activity, leaving the status of these deals somewhat confused under the review of the new FCC Chairman.

Before Christmas, two transactions involving shared services agreements were approved over objections.  While these transactions were approved, there was a lengthy analysis of the SSAs involved  in the decision approving Gannett’s acquisition of Belo.  In that discussion, the Commission’s staff carefully reviewed the attributes of the SSAs proposed as part of the transaction, and found them within the precedent established in prior transactions.  This included making sure that the licensee of the station receiving the services retained at least 70% of the proceeds from the sales of advertising time on the station, and that the party providing services programmed no more than 15% of the time on the other station.  But, in a paragraph that many thought was just a statement that Commission always retains the right to review transactions that are consistent with precedent, the Commission stated:

That is why applicants and interested parties should not forget that our public interest mandate encompasses giving careful attention to the economic effects of, and incentives created by, a proposed transaction taken as a whole and its consistency with the Commission’s policies under the Act, including our policies in favor of competition, diversity, and localism

But was this simply a statement of the obvious, or did it mean more?
Continue Reading What’s Up With TV Shared Services Agreements?