FCC Turns Sights To Local Station Ownership
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Thread: FCC Turns Sights To Local Station Ownership

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Solano County, California

    FCC Turns Sights To Local Station Ownership


    Well this policy will affect station groups like Nexstar and Sinclair the largest Tv station owners in the country. This is in relation to the Sinclair/Tribune/Bonten Deal and the Nexstar/Tegna deal.

    The FCC is expected to clear the way as soon as this summer for broadcasters to own up to two or more TV stations in most if not all markets — even if two of the stations are Big Four network affiliates, broadcast industry sources say.

    Ajit Pai, the Trump administration’s FCC chairman, and his fellow GOP commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who now constitute the FCC’s majority, have already made clear their support for deregulation.

    Both dissented last year when the commission, then led by Obama-appointed Democrat Tom Wheeler, refused to loosen the local ownership rule. “The regulations ... are as timely as rabbit ears, and it’s about time they go the way of those relics of the broadcast world,” Pai said in his dissent.

    Although sanguine the FCC will deliver the relief, industry sources are unsure how and when.

    Pai's office declined to comment for this story.

    The current TV station ownership rule bars broadcasters from combining two of the top-four-ranked stations in a market, which are usually the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates, and prohibits them from acquiring second stations regardless of rank in markets with fewer than eight independently owned stations.

    Broadcasters have become adept at circumventing the rule through the use of joint sales and shared services agreements (JSAs and SSAs) that allow broadcasters to operate, but not own, second stations in markets and enjoy the resulting efficiencies.

    Perhaps encouraged by last year's dissents of Pai and O'Rielly, the NAB and Nexstar petitioned the FCC in December to reconsider the Wheeler FCC order affirming the local ownership rule as well as the ruling that stations operated through JSAs should be attributed — that is, counted as owned stations under the ownership rule.

    NAB argued that the FCC should allow broadcasters to own more than one station in all markets "subject to the limits of antitrust law." Nexstar simply asked to be allowed to own two stations in all markets.

    Both also called on the FCC to reverse the decision making JSA stations attributable.

    Broadcasters and their Washington reps have high hopes that the FCC will grant the wishes of NAB and Nexstar. Some that it might go even further.

    “It would not surprise me at all if they just threw out the local ownership rules,” an industry executive said. “Just let the antitrust rules control, and leave it at that.”

    A source close to the issue said that DOJ guidelines currently bar common ownership of TV stations where a broadcaster would get more than about a 40% combined share of the local broadcast TV advertising market revenue. The Justice Department has required station spinoffs in markets where that threshold would have been passed.

    But broadcasters have urged the DOJ to expand its definition of the local advertising market to include radio, cable and internet ads, not just broadcast TV ads. The effect would be to permit broadcasters to buy more stations in a market.

    The FCC essentially has three ways it can proceed in easing its local ownership rule, agency watchers say.

    The slowest, and least favored route for industry execs, would be for the FCC to put off action on local ownership until after it launches its congressionally mandated quadrennial review of all ownership rules sometime next year.

    The fastest would be to simply rule on the Nexstar and NAB petitions for reconsideration without seeking further public comment.

    However, the consensus among insiders appears to be that the FCC, in the interest of building the best possible legal case for the courts, will put out the proposals for a fresh round of comments, either in a public notice or a notice of proposed rulemaking. By doing so, the FCC could address court concerns about the impact the ownership rules have on viewpoint diversity.

    “There will be court challenges, and the better record you build the more likely you are to weather a court of appeals challenge,” said Elliot Evers, a managing director for the investment banking firm MVP Capital. “They need a further record on everything,” Evers continued. “If he [Pai] finds support in the record and in the facts, which is pretty easy to find, I do think he will eliminate lots and lots of things.”

    Broadcasters and the FCC should expect resistance from groups opposed to media consolidation.

    “Our view is that the Third Circuit [federal court of appeals in Philadelphia] has told the FCC that it can’t repeal or modify the local ownership rules without looking at the impact that could have on minorities and women,” said long-time advocacy group leader Andrew Schwartzman.

    Assuming the FCC Republicans deliver, the local media market deregulation will come on the heels of another major move by the Trump administration FCC to relax the national TV ownership cap by restoring the so-called UHF discount.

    The discount, which was eliminated by the Obama administration FCC, says broadcasters have to count only half of a UHF TV station’s reach toward the 39% cap on U.S. coverage set by the FCC’s national TV ownership rule. With the discount back in place, a single broadcaster can own UHF TV stations reaching 78% of TV households.

    In the wake of the Trump FCC’s action, Sinclair Broadcast Group has already proposed to up its coverage from just below 39% to 72% through a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.

    Sinclair, which is hoping to file its Tribune deal application at the FCC later this month, has a major stake in the agency’s resolution of the duopoly issue because the group broadcaster and Tribune have about 14 overlapping markets and Sinclair wants to keep all the stations the rules will allow, a source close to the issue said.

    Industry critics are challenging the Trump FCC’s UHF discount decision in the Court of Appeals in Washington, which on June 1 stayed the FCC decision “to give the court sufficient opportunity” to review the request for stay.

    The effect of easing the local rule would be immediate. It would facilitate the merger of large groups with overlapping stations and it could touch off a round of deals and swaps among groups trying to double up in markets.

    One industry executive told TVNewsCheck that if the duopoly restrictions are eliminated, controlling parties to many existing JSAs may be able to exercise boilerplate options to acquire the JSA stations.

    This source also noted that if the duopoly rule is eliminated or significantly relaxed, there will be less of a need for JSAs in the future.

    Regardless of the deregulation’s timing, Patrick Communications’ broker Greg Guy said that some broadcasters are planning deals in anticipation and have already been enhancing their market positions through JSAs and other mechanisms. “You’ll see many of these deals triggered immediately because they’re all teed up and ready,” he said.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    West Michigan
    I think Top 4 rule should remain I believe that no TV station owner can own 2 top 4 stations only if it is a small market maybe midsize market. Nexstar would still have to sell WZZM since it doesn't look like you can own 3 full power stations.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Solano County, California

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Megatron View Post
    I think Top 4 rule should remain I believe that no TV station owner can own 2 top 4 stations only if it is a small market maybe midsize market. Nexstar would still have to sell WZZM since it doesn't look like you can own 3 full power stations.
    For a small, non-rated market, for your scenario how would one determine what stations are considered top? That, and in rural areas where there may be one or two local stations with other signals heard from other neighboring towns, what would stop an operator from owning stations in multiple towns and crossing signals?

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Solano County, California

    Here is an update on that

    A widely anticipated vote on proposals to relax the FCC’s national media ownership rule will not be on the agency’s Sept. 26 meeting agenda — and it was unclear at deadline when the item would be considered.

    An FCC spokesman confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the proposals will not be voted on at the Sept. 26 meeting and declined comment on when they might appear.


    Many industry sources expect that the cap, which currently limits ownership to stations reaching a maximum of 39% of TV homes, to be raised to at least 50%.

  6. #6
    No mention in this proposal of any radio ownership changes. There was a request for comments on that part of this a few months ago. Perhaps that explains the delay.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Solano County, California

    Now An editorial by Politico has been released on media outlets and station ownership.

    How much control should one company have over America’s television stations?

    For more than a decade, this has seemed like a settled question: In 2004, Congress limited the national reach of a television-group owner to 39 percent of U.S. homes. This limitation was put in place to keep the major networks, who are also station-group owners, from having too much control over local news.

    This was actually an increase from the limit set by Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission, which first instituted the ownership cap in 1985 at 25 percent. Since then, the idea that no one company should control a dominant number of TV stations has developed a strong bipartisan constituency. Democrats and Republicans have long agreed that a handful of TV networks operating out of New York should not control most of the nation’s TV stations and their local news programming.

    But when Sinclair Broadcast Group proposed merging with Tribune Media in May 2017, it would have created a new company that reached 72 percent of all TV households in the U.S. This enormous reach was not what Congress intended. My company, Newsmax, along with many organizations on both sides of the political spectrum, opposed the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

    The merger was dropped, but it is still too early to celebrate. Tribune is apparently for sale again, with its 43 stations back on the market, and we could soon face another titanic television conglomerate if the FCC doesn’t act soon to make clear that there are limits on how dominant a TV station group can be.

    What happened to the old limits? Sinclair was able to bid for Tribune and attempt to reach 72 percent of the country because in April 2017 the FCC re-instituted something called the UHF discount.

    The UHF discount was an archaic regulatory rule that allowed television stations broadcasting on UHF frequencies to be counted at half their actual reach. In the past, this made sense, since UHF spectrum was considered to be inferior to VHF spectrum. Technology, however, has now made the rule obsolete because, since the 2009 transition to digital broadcasting, UHF signals are no longer inferior to VHF spectrum. In fact, UHF is now the preferred broadcasting frequency for digital television.

    Shortly after the switch to digital—sometimes called the “DTV transition”—the FCC began a rulemaking to eliminate the UHF discount. According to the FCC, “the transition to DTV … undermine[d] the basis for the UHF discount” because it was “premised on the constraints of old technology.” The FCC formally eliminated it in 2016.

    But then, inexplicably, the discount was restored in 2017—a move widely viewed as providing a loophole for Sinclair to skirt the ownership limit. If you “discount” the value of UHF stations, you can nearly double the size of the audience a single broadcaster is allowed to reach without the consent of Congress or a lengthy FCC proceeding to determine whether it’s in the public interest.

    Public interest groups immediately filed for a stay of the decision and appealed to the federal court in the District of Columbia, arguing that it should nix the new UHF discount as inappropriate and dishonest. In July, the court ruled that the petitioners did not have jurisdiction in the case, without discussing the merits of their arguments. For now, the UHF discount remains in place, but its justification remains questionable.

    Fortunately, the FCC heard the message of people like myself and many others concerned about the ownership limitation, and its chairman, Ajit Pai, began a new process to permanently eliminate the UHF discount, while simultaneously raising or eliminating the national television ownership cap.

    During the comment period that ended in March, Newsmax argued that if the cap was going to increase, a fair proportion would be about 50 percent of U.S. homes. Any number north of that would endanger competition and give large television station groups leverage to increase their rates over cable operators, thereby increasing consumer costs. These station groups would also have tremendous power to promote the cable channels they own over independent programmers like Newsmax, further undermining competition and diversity.

    This issue should be resolved now. In addition to Tribune’s stations, Cox Media Group has indicated its 14 local TV stations are up for sale, and many station groups already butting up against the 39 percent cap are circling these assets. Before any more acquisitions and mergers get underway, the FCC needs to communicate a clear national standard—one that respects the ideas of localism, competition and diversity.
    THe Writer is the leader of Newsmax one of the parties that stopped the Sinclair deal.

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