It may be a new, Democratic-led FCC, but broadcasters and cable operators are fighting the same retrans and media ownership battles. On March 16, representatives of the American Television Alliance met with a top FCC staffer to argue that the current media ownership rules allow broadcasters to skirt limits and create triopolies and even quadropolies, loopholes they argued should be eliminated. Only a few days later, representatives of the NAB met with a different FCC staffer to talk about the same issues, but from quite a different perspective.
The FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics has issued a working paper giving the next FCC something to think about when it decides whether to allow mergers that reduce the number of station owners in a market. The paper, which was issued only days before the FCC heads to the Supreme Court -to defend its efforts to deregulate TV station ownership, looks at the relationship between the number of independently owned local television news operations and market size and the size thresholds above which a market will be able to sustain, economically, two, three or four or more such operations.
The Nexstar CEO says while the FCC’s ownership coverage cap is effectively at 78% now, broadcasters would like the Pai FCC to lock it in at that level so that some future FCC with a Democratic majority cannot easily reset it at 39% by once again repealing the UHF discount.
Lee Spieckerman: “Prohibiting TV broadcast groups from at least approaching the reach of the big networks dramatically diminishes their ability to invest in more non-network programming options for viewers, become serious contenders in the burgeoning streaming marketplace and effectively compete with the networks and digital titans. How can that possibly be in the public interest?”
Pai is a classic free-market deregulator. The fewer rules governing business the better he likes it. That’s why it makes some sense that he will do nothing regarding proposals to raise the FCC’s station ownership cap. Why should he? The cap is plenty high now and any change is almost certain to end up challenged in court. Doing nothing also avoids any political blowback in Washington.
Not all broadcasters believe that the cap should go away completely. Graham’s Emily Barr: “The problem is, 39% seems wrong and 100% seems wrong.” Other topics at the TV2020 conference Wednesday: The panelists were extremely bullish on how much live programming will play into the overall health of the broadcast industry. And they expressed enthusiasm for ATSC 3.0, saying that there is no need for a solid business 3.0 business plan to make sense of the massive initiative. L-r: TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessell, Graham Media’s Emily Barr, Nexstar’s Perry Sook, Fox Television Stations’ Jack Abernethy and Gray’s Hilton Howell. (Photo: Wendy Moger-Bross)
Fox Television Stations chief Jack Abernethy: “The best thing for our business would be full relaxation of ownership restrictions,” adding that such a move would also be the best thing for employees and consumers.
An FCC spokesman confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the proposals for modifying the cap will not be voted on at the Sept. 26 meeting and declined comment on when they might appear.
Ion, Trinity and Univision have weighed in at the FCC with supplemental evidence for what they argue is the need to roll back the FCC’s 39% cap on a TV station group’s national audience reach, and preferably all the way rather than raising it once again.
The controversial proposal to change how many stations companies can own didn’t show up on the schedule for the commission’s Aug. 2 meeting.
A dozen senators called on the FCC to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group for distorting the news, and to pause its review of the pending acquisition of Tribune Media. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai immediately shot down the request, saying it would conflict with his commitment to the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
A dozen senators wrote to the FCC today to urge the agency to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group and pause its proposed merger with Tribune Media.
Last Friday, President Trump signed a $1.3 trillion appropriations bill that will mean some significant changes to the broadcasting community. The 2,232-page omnibus bill not only includes an additional $1 billion for spectrum repack on top of the already $1.75 billion already allocated, but also changes how broadcasters are treated in terms of access to funding, resources and critical areas in cases of disasters.
The affiliates want the FCC to impose a 39% ownership cap on the networks to keep the networks’ power in check. But that’s not what regulations are for — they should protect the public, not one business from another.
The trade group tells the FCC it should increase the coverage limit to 78%. Network affiliates, on the other hand, want to limit the networks to 39% for their O&Os, while Nexstar and Sinclair say there is no longer justification for any cap at all.
Los Angeles Times: “The real issue is whether any company should be able to amass control over so much of the public airwaves.”
Sinclair’s behavior in trying to merge with Tribune is doing it — and the entire broadcasting industry — no favors. By dragging out this process, and by pressing for every advantage, Sinclair is making life difficult for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has been broadcasters’ best friend in that job in decades.
Sinclair Broadcast Group wants to sell WGN-TV Chicago to a Maryland auto dealer but would remain in control of the station in what critics say is a bid to skirt ownership limits and win federal regulatory approval for its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. Steven Fader, CEO of Atlantic Automotive,is a longtime business partner of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith.
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposal to sell but still operate TV stations in New York, Chicago and other cities to win regulatory approval of its $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media Co. has drawn derision from critics of media consolidation.
By the end of last year, in a previously undisclosed move, the FCC’s inspector general, the agency’s top internal watchdog, opened an investigation into whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for TV station ownership rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group, according to Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey and two congressional aides.
The FCC in December issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking at changes in the national television ownership caps. Yesterday, the commission issued an Order extending the comment dates. Comments are now due on March 19, with replies on April 18.
It says petitioners Prometheus Radio Project and Media Mobilizing Project failed to show “a clear and indisputable abuse of discretion or error of law, a lack of an alternate avenue for adequate relief, and a likelihood of irreparable injury.”
With anticipation that the Department of Justice will eventually give approval to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition of Tribune Media, what’s being watched now is just what stations the combined broadcasting giant will be forced to sell to secure a government green light. Recent filings with the FCC suggest that it will seek waivers to own more than one Top-4 station in a market.
Former congressman Tom DeLay: “I appreciate the conservative perspective of Sinclair, and support its First Amendment right to espouse its views. We should tread carefully when regulations could limit speech. But the spectrum Sinclair utilizes to broadcast is limited and this transaction would set a terrible precedent by opening the door for ABC, CBS and NBC to also buy many more TV stations. At that point, nothing can stop liberal Northeast corporate executives from telling homes in the heartland what to think.”
The deregulatory changes the FCC recently adopted to its media ownership rules are due to take effect on Feb. 7. Prometheus Radio Project and Media Mobilizing Project, however, have filed an appeal of those rule changes in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and, as expected, have now asked the court to delay the FCC’s implementation of those changes.
The U.S. Department of Justice is very close to blessing the merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media as regulators appear to be satisfied with a plan that would have the pair divest of some of their TV stations. The $3.9 billion deal, once blessed by the DOJ, would still need the FCC’s approval.
In November, the FCC eliminated the rule requiring that eight independent TV voices remain in a market before a TV duopoly would be approved, eliminated the newspaper/broadcast and radio/television crossownership rules, and made other changes. Now, Prometheus Radio Project and Media Mobilizing Project, public interest groups who have been opponents of relaxation in the FCC’s broadcast ownership rules, have filed the first petition for review of that action.
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media would give the conservative-leaning company control of an additional TV station in Des Moines, Iowa — one of the most important presidential primary media markets in the country.
Published today in the Federal Register were two notices from the FCC implementing November’s decision on the FCC’s ownership rules. Changes included, among other things, the elimination of the rule that required that there be eight independent owners of TV stations in a market before any party can own two TV stations, elimination of ownership attribution for JSAs between stations in the same market, and a plan to review proposals to combine two of the top 4 stations in any market on a case-by-case basis. These rule changes become effective Feb. 7. Also, comments on Incubator programs to foster diversity in broadcast ownership are due March 9
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department has signaled it is willing to approve Sinclair Broadcast Group’s planned takeover of Tribune Media. but with a condition: It wants the companies to sell off roughly a dozen television stations. DOJ told the companies the deal as currently structured raises antitrust problems and that 12 to 13 station sales are necessary to alleviate concerns about competition in markets where a combined Sinclair-Tribune would otherwise have a commanding presence. Journal subscribers can read the full story here.
In another boost to major station owners like Sinclair and Fox, yet another partisan vote by the Republican-controlled FCC moved the commission a step closer to raising or eliminating the 39% ownership cap. The rule adopted today starts a process of review that many local broadcasters and observers see as likely to result in a change to the longstanding cap, which currently limits a single owner from controlling stations with reach to more than 39% of U.S. households.
Sen. Claire McCaskill has written FCC Chairman Ajit Pai voicing concerns about the “negative impact” on the St. Louis media market from the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media. “If the Sinclair-Tribune transaction is approved as proposed it would leave three stations in the hands of one company, including two of the top four stations in the market,” she wrote.
The FCC chairman, by restoring the UHF discount earlier this year, has for all practical purposes substantially increased the national TV ownership cap. Approving Sinclair-Tribune early next year will reaffirm that fact. The commission’s rulemaking set to launch on Dec. 14 to examine changing or eliminating the ownership limit may turn out simply to be a codification.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is close to accepting a remedy proposed by the Department of Justice to allow its $6.6 billion buyout of Tribune Media to gain regulatory approval. The feds want Sinclair, whose 193 TV stations spread over 89 markets makes it the largest TV station owner in the country, to sell 13 Tribune stations, sources say.
The agency moves to relax several rules, including eliminating the newspaper-TV station ban, and will now allow a company to own more than one Top 4 station in a market. Critics say the actions will reduce ownership diversity and benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group. JSA also are OK’d.
Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media, recently spelled out all the reasons he’s against the Sinclair-Tribune merger now before the FCC, except the real one. He’s way off base on almost every single claim. Here’s my point-by-point rebuttal.
In a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley, Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas asked tough questions about the Sinclair-Tribune merger.
Yesterday, the FCC at long last announced its intention to reform its woefully outdated broadcast ownership rules. To say that these changes are past due is an understatement. Clearly, not every long-standing FCC rule should be eliminated or modified just because of its age. But the broadcast ownership rules fail to reflect today’s digital media marketplace.
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy: “While President Trump has been condemning “fake news,” his very own FCC is pursuing policies that will lead to the greatest concentration of television media power in history.”
The fiery editorials of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn will be beamed into seven in 10 American living rooms if the company is allowed to complete a merger that would transform it into a nationwide conservative TV juggernaut. But Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media Co. is encountering opposition from unlikely foes: media stalwarts of the right.