Sinclair has proposed dropping the use of sidecars as part of its effort to push its acquisition of Allbritton through the FCC. Sinclair says it will sell three stations that it now owns — WHP Harrisburg-Lancaster, Pa.; WMMP Charleston, S.C.; and WABM Birmingham, Ala.– to independent third parties. The company assured the FCC it would not enter any operational or financial agreements with any of the buyers.
In ex parte remarks, it suggests any changes should be made in concert with a broader consideration of broadcast ownership rules.
Plenty, say broadcasters.The impetus comes from liberal foes of big media, cable and satellite operators trying to slow the growth of retrans payments and possibly Wheeler’s own effort to promote broadcasters’ participation in the spectrum auction. “He’s trying to break apart broadcasters,” says one station group executive.
Broadcasters are worried that FCC chief Tom Wheeler is planning to resurrect an agency proposal that would require broadcasters to unwind joint sales agreements within two years. Wheeler, according to the plan, also would seek comment on what do about shared services agreements.
The FCC chairman says that the FCC will be giving closer scrutiny to shared services agreements that allow broadasters to skirt local ownership caps. “We’re going to do things differently,” he tells media consolidation foes in California.
As a result of its November deal for Hoak Media, Gray Television will end up with a second duopoly (CBS-Fox) in the Colorado market west of Denver. That’s one too many under the FCC rules — it already has an ABC-NBC duopoly there. So, it’s spinning off the CBS-Fox combo to Nexstar Broadcasting in two separate deals for a total of $37.5 million.
In comments on whether the FCC’s long-standing policy on counting the reach of group broadcasters should be changed, some broadcasters say the commission doesn’t have the authority to drop it and suggest a grandfathering scheme; NAB says it should be considered only as part of broader ownership reform; and a public interest group wants a limit on any grandfather status.
The Republican FCC commissioner says the agency should consider raising the cap that limits the reach of TV station groups to 39% of TV homes at the same time it decides what to do about the UHF discount, one factor in calculating that reach.The effect of eliminating the discount, he says, would only be to “substantially tighten the national ownership limit.”
With the FCC indicating it will review the old provision that boosts how many TV stations a group can own, affected broadcasters are scrambling to make sure changes apply only to deals going forward and that they don’t have to divest current holdings. Feeling the heat: Tribune, Fox and Sinclair.
The current round of station consolidation has produced six more Big Four affiliate duopolies and one Big Four triopoly (Syracuse, N.Y.) that give broadcasters undue leverage in retrans negotiations with cable operators and ultimately drive up cable subscriber fees, says the American Cable Association.
A survey conducted by BIA/Kelsey and commissioned by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council finds broadcasters are generally unconcerned that they may be at a disadvantage from in-market rivals with cross-media holdings.
In his call for a GAO study, the Senate Commerce Committee Chairman says joint sales and shared services agreements that allow a broadcast group to operate multiple stations in markets where the FCC rules say it may own just one might “artificially serve to inflate retransmission consent rates … and drive up subscription fees for pay television consumers.”
Communications attorney John Hane: “Unless it can find a way to make all of the other players in the television industry smaller, the FCC should throw off archaic broadcast ownership regulations that skew the market against the only television service that is free to Americans who don’t want to pay.”
The FCC should rule that virtual duopolies based on JSAs and SSAs are allowable only if the owners of the second stations are minorities or women. This would act as a powerful incentive for broadcasters to seek out such partners and give them the experience to eventually venture out on their own.
On Thursday, the FCC released a Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking relating to its biennial broadcast ownership report filing requirements, reigniting a controversy over privacy, broadcast investment and, indeed, the very purpose of the reports. Because the FCC wants researchers to be able to track the race, ethnicity and gender of each individual connected with a broadcast station, it requires either a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), or a Social Security Number (SSN). Not surprisingly, this requirement met with fierce opposition from numerous groups,
Free Press CEO Craig Aaron: “Chairman Genachowski’s attempt to overhaul long-standing media ownership limits is little more than a gift-wrapped giveaway to Rupert Murdoch.”
The trade group says in comments that the commission’s media ownership regulations are outdated and don’t reflect market realities. It argues that they place broadcasters at a “severe disadvantage” in a marketplace filled with rival media that do not labor under similar restrictions.
In its new rulemaking announced yesterday, the commission proposes relaxing the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule dropping restrictions on common ownership of TV and radio stations in all markets.But it also wants to leave the duopoly rule in place and study whether shared services and local news service agreements should count toward ownership under the rule.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act would repeal the compulsory license, must-carry, retransmission consent and local broadcast ownership limits. NAB turns thumbs down.