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FCC

GAO Says FCC Needs More Data Before Regulating Shared Service Agreements

FCC_304The U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report saying the FCC doesn’t have enough information to regulate shared service agreements.

In its report, the GAO wrote, “FCC does not collect data and has not completed a review on the prevalence of agreements, how they are used, or their effects on its policy goals and media ownership rules.”

The report said the agreements pit cable and satellite providers and consumer groups against station group owners, with cable and satellite providers saying the deals contribute to higher rates for consumers while consumer groups say shared services agreements dilute the quality of news in local markets.

The GAO said reports were mixed on the actual effects of the agreements “because the [retrans] negotiations are subject to nondisclosure agreements, and there is no data source identifying which stations participate in agreements.”

The report concludes by telling the FCC it “should determine whether it needs to collect additional data to understand the prevalence and context of broadcast agreements and whether broadcaster agreements affect its media policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity.”

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Congress Looking at FCC Ownership Rules

FCC_304A subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce meets today in a session called “Media Ownership in the 21st Century.”

On its website, the committee said it’s meeting to “discuss the FCC’s inaction on the statutorily required 2010 quadrennial review of the media ownership rules as well as the continued relevance of the media ownership regulatory framework in general.”

The subcommittee will also talk about the FCC’s decision to “forge ahead with new rules on joint sales agreements (JSAs) and other media ownership changes without the completed quadrennial review.”

In other words, lawmakers will talk about whether the FCC’s ownership rules are still relevant and whether lawmakers agree with the FCC’s decision to limit JSAs.

“The question is are the media ownership rules today even credible in today’s technological society?” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) told The Hill. “Hopefully we flesh that out, make that case. Because if you stay under the same rules, there’s a chance you make it more difficult for the local purveyors of news and information to survive.”

Republicans have criticized the regulations and lambasted the FCC for moving forward with additional restrictions to broadcasters operating in the same media market. Under a proposal approved by the FCC in March, broadcast companies would be effectively banned from sharing more than 15 percent of their advertising resources, a practice that broadcasters say is necessary for them to operate. Read more

Sinclair Intends to Pull the Plug on Three ABC Affiliates As Part of Allbritton Deal

sinclair_304Sinclair Broadcast Group has told the FCC it intends to surrender the licenses of the ABC affiliates in Charleston, SC, and Birmingham, AL, because of the FCC’s recent restrictions on joint sales agreements.

Sinclair intends to surrender the licenses of WCFT and WJSU in Birmingham and ABC affiliate WCIV in Charleston. The three stations are currently owned by Allbritton.

Sinclair has been trying to sell the licenses to comply with the FCC’s ruling against joint sales agreements.

According to the filing, Sinclair wants to move the ABC programming and syndicated shows of the stations to its MyNetworkTV affiliates WABM in Birmingham and WMMP in Charleston. Read more

Lawmakers Look for Ways to Let Viewers in Southwest Colorado Watch Colorado Stations

FCC_304Colorado Senator Mark Udall (D) and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel met Wednesday in Durango, CO, to figure out how to let residents in the southwest part of the state watch Denver TV.

The Durango Herald reports right now, some residents of La Plata and Montezuma Counties in Colorado can only watch Albuquerque stations.

La Plata County residents long have complained they get what one attendee at Wednesday’s forum described as “if it bleeds, it leads” journalism from Albuquerque-based TV news stations.

Among the roadblocks to Denver TV are resistance from New Mexico broadcasters, who don’t want to lose viewers in Southwest Colorado who support advertising revenue, and The Nielsen Co., the private New York-based company that determines TV market areas. Read more

FCC Votes to Restrict Joint Service Agreements

fcc logoThe FCC voted today to tighten media ownership rules by cracking down on joint service agreements, The Hill reports:

Under Monday’s 3-2 vote, a broadcast company that sells 15 percent or more of a station’s advertising will be considered as owning that station. “What we’re doing is closing off what has been a growing end-run around [the FCC’s ownership] rules,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday.

“JSAs have been used, skirting the existing rules, to create market power that stacks the deck against small companies seeking to enter the broadcast business,” he said. The order allows broadcast stations using JSAs to apply for an exemption to the new ownership rules and requires the agency to reply to a station’s request within 90 days.

“We make it clear that JSAs are appropriate when they further those statutory goals of competition, diversity and localism,” Wheeler said. Republicans on the FCC slammed the agency’s move to constrain cooperation between broadcasters. Commissioner Ajit Pai called it “the most problematic item I’ve encountered” during his time at the agency.

FCC Votes to Prevent Joint Retransmission Negotiations

fcc sealThe FCC has voted to bar broadcasters from negotiating retransmission deals for multiple television stations in the same market, TVNewsCheck reports:

Under the new regulation adopted, two or more separately owned Top-4 broadcasters in the same market would be prohibited from negotiating retrans deals altogether.

During the meeting, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that Congress gave broadcasters the right to charge for their programming and that’s not changing. “All we’re doing today,” he said, “is leveling the negotiating table.”

On a related action, the FCC also proposed a further notice of rulemaking seeking comment on whether to eliminate the agency’s network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules, regulations that make it easier for stations to protect the exclusivity of their programming in their markets.

Statements from the American Television Alliance and the American Cable Association are after the jump. Read more

B&C: FCC Will Put ‘Shot Clock’ on Joint Service Agreement Waivers

fcc-logo_white-on-blackThe FCC will vote today on a proposal to restrict joint service agreements, seeking to limit situations where stations share facilities, and staff to lower costs. Broadcasting & Cable reports the FCC will implement a “shot clock” on waiver requests:

According to a source familiar with negotiations over the FCC’s joint sales agreement (JSA) item, the FCC’s Media Bureau will have 90 days to act on waiver requests. There will also be a strong presumption that JSA’s that benefit diversity are in the public interest, which could be good news for the Sinclair JSA’s with Armstrong Williams stations.

Negotiations over the item had stretched into the weekend, with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said to have pushed for the shot clock, as well as for giving owners more than two years to unwind existing JSA’s that would exceed ownership limits, though according to sources that unwind period remains two years.

The media ownership item being teed up for a vote at the FCC Monday (March 31) is also said to include more specificity about what types of JSA’s would qualify for a waiver than was in the original draft item.

FCC Commissioner Wants to Give Small Business a Break in Proposed SSA Ban

FCC_304FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said she wants to protect small businesses from the agency’s attempt to ban station groups’ use of shared services agreements.

Clyburn told Bloomberg section 257 of the Communications Act of 1934 calls for the “FCC to identify and eliminate, through regulatory action, market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses.”

She said “she wants ‘the ability to uphold those standards and those goals,’” and added, “This is an item that is still very fluid and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with my colleagues because we all in the end I believe want the same thing: to achieve balance.”

Clyburn today said there “will be a pathway for waivers if something does not neatly fit in the decision which we lay out.” The commission is trying to work out “ways that we can make that clearer and more efficient” before the vote. Read more

Juan Williams: FCC’s Proposed Ban on Shared Service Agreements Will Hurt Diversity

local newsroomFox News political analyst Juan Williams pens an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the FCC’s proposed change in ownership regulations will hurt diversity in local broadcasting.

Williams writes that Armstrong Williams — who owns WWMB in Myrtle Beach and WEYI in Flint, Mich., both of which are operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group — will have “the financial rug pulled out from underneath him” if the FCC votes to ban sidecar agreements:

The black-owned stations simply lack the economic scale to get adequate advertising rates to pay their bills or even buy the station. For example, the bank that lent Mr. Williams $50 million to buy his stations did so with the understanding that he had the agreement with Sinclair, the much bigger firm.

In the last 10 years, the number of black-owned commercial television outlets licensed to black-owned companies has dropped to three from 21, the result of general market consolidation and some bankruptcies. Of the three remaining, Mr. Williams owns two and the third belongs to Tougaloo College, a historically black institution in Jackson, Miss.

A change in FCC rules would do more than damage Mr. Williams. His stations serve the areas of Flint, Mich., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., both of which have large minority populations. For many years Mr. Williams, a well-known media personality, has been actively involved in shaping local public-affairs programs that speak to minority concerns as a way to boost his own audience. Losing his TV stations means the communities also will lose broadcast content that reflects a minority perspective.

FCC Expected to Vote on Shared Service Agreement Ban

FCC_304Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to ask the FCC to vote on a ban of some shared-service agreements in the commissions next meeting.

The proposal is also expected to ban local stations from teaming up in retransmission negotiations.

Bloomberg reports Sinclair Broadcasting, along with several other station groups including Nexstar and LIN Media would be forced to give up some stations if the proposal passes.

Sinclair’s revenue last year from the type of arrangement the officials said Wheeler is most directly targeting amounted to $36 million, according to the filing. Sinclair reported $1.36 billion in revenue last year.

Sinclair fell 1.9 percent to $29.51 at 10:12 a.m. New York time. Nexstar lost 1.7 percent to $42.84, while Lin Media declined less than 1 percent to $23.09.

Wheeler needs to win a vote to pass the change at the FCC, where he is part of the three-member Democratic majority. The agency’s next meeting is March 31 in Washington. Read more

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