A coalition of small-market broadcasters led by Raycom’s Paul McTear will be lobbying the FCC today and tomorrow asking for the same duopoly rights as their big-market brethren.
FCC commissioners got an earful from opponents of easing media ownership restrictions at Monday’s public hearing in Nashville.
But today and tomorrow, they and others at the agency will hear the flip side from a newly formed group that believes that significant duopoly relief is long overdue in the nation’s small TV markets.
The Smaller Market Broadcasters Coalition comprises several TV station groups with 111 stations in markets ranging from Providence, R.I. (DMA 51) to Ottumwa Iowa- Kirksville, Mo. (DMA 199).
Representing the coalition in the FCC lobbying foray will be Raycom Media’s Paul McTear, Barrington Broadcasting’s Jim Yager, Quincy Newspapers’ Ralph Oakley, Freedom Broadcasting’s Doreen Wade and Darrell Blue with Morgan Murphy Stations.
They are slated to meet this morning with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and later with Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Also today, they’ll talk to FCC Media Bureau Chief Donna Gregg and staff.
On Thursday, the broadcasters are scheduled to meet separately with Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate, Michael Copps and Robert McDowell.
“We don’t believe that the small-market case has been properly heard or articulated in any way, shape or form,” says McTear, the spokesman for the coalition.
“We came together recently to take our case to the FCC because we believe that small-market television stations have gotten lost in the shuffle,” even in 2003 when the FCC first rewrote its media ownership rules, explains McTear.
A federal appeals court struck down the 2003 rules, forcing the FCC to begin anew last summer. Martin and his Republican colleagues Tate and McDowell are thought to favor some relaxation of the rules that now ban common ownership of stations and daily newspapers in a market or more than one TV station in many small markets, so-called duopolies.
In January, McTear says, the coalition plans to take its case to Capitol Hill to meet with key congressional leaders.
McTear says the coalition was formed because small-market broadcasters were tired of being lumped together with big media—the real target of much of the ire in Nashville and at other public hearings.
And the existence of the group is not meant as a slight to the National Association of Broadcasters, he says. While NAB does a “superb job” representing the entire industry, “I don’t think they speak specifically about large markets or small markets. They try to be all things to all people.”
Other members of the coalition include Cordillera Communications, Drewry Communications, Fisher Communications, Freedom Broadcasting, LIN Television and Schurz Communications.
The coalition hopes to set the record straight.
They want FCC commissioners and Congress to better understand that the needs of the small-market broadcasters and to give them the same opportunity to operate duopolies as the big-market broadcasters now have.
The group argues that smaller-market broadcasters are feeling a serious financial squeeze from a costly digital transition, the elimination of network compensation and shrinking ad revenues.
“With declining revenues and mounting losses, many smaller market stations have reduced or even eliminated their local services, replacing local newscasts with acquired programming,” the coalition says in its formal comments in the FCC media ownership proceeding. “Some have even gone dark.”
According to the coalition, the FCC’s 2003 ruling did not go far enough. It prohibited duopolies in markets with fewer than five stations and limited duopolies in markets with five, six or seven stations.
Indeed, McTear says, there were 91 smaller markets that were denied any relief. Broadcasters in those markets face the most financial duress, he says.
“We need to change the business model of running small-market television stations so we can provide more services, more news and more community interest programming going forward, not less,” he says.
“We’re not financial guys looking to change the complexion of the televisions stations,” he says. “We spend money on news and we look to expand news and community interest programming. We think the public interest is best served if the FCC would allow smaller markets to benefit through duopoly ownership.
“We are all good broadcasters.”