Shared Services Deals Get Closer Look From Regulators

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The increased popularity of “virtual duopolies”–the term applied to the various shared services/local marketing/joint operating agreements between stations in a given market–may be waning soon, as the FCC may take a closer look at whether the deals are kosher, according to TVNewsCheck.com.

Cable outfits are saying these station alliances give the stations unfair leverage in retransmission consent negotiations. The American Cable Association, not surprisingly, wants the FCC to take a hard look at whether these partnerships among would-be rival stations violates FCC guidelines.

Reports Kim McAvoy:

The extent to which virtual duopolies are to be allowed is likely to be revisited in the FCC’s quadrennial review of all its broadcast ownership rules, which the agency kicked off last month by inviting comments on them.

In that proceeding, broadcasters will urge the commission to relax its duopoly rule so that they can own multiple stations in small markets and convert virtual duopolies into real duopolies.

Opponents of media consolidation will oppose any relaxation of the rule and ask to close “loopholes” now allowing broadcasters to control multiple stations in smaller markets.

As part of its review, the FCC is commissioning several studies. Among them may be one that will gauge the scope and nature of the many virtual duopolies now in place, according to commission sources.

The virtual duopoly issue is timely. LIN and Acme announced a shared services pact in three common markets last week. Raycom’s deal to have three stations operate out of one newsroom in Honolulu has the attention of local media watchdogs.

“Some of these agreements are clear violations of the rules,” says Angela Campbell, who represents the Communications Workers of America and Media Council of Hawaii in their effort to block Raycom Media from controlling three stations in Honolulu. “What’s the point of having rules if you’re not going to enforce them?”

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