Broadcasters To FCC On Media Ownership: HELP!

NAB, others argue that loosening rules is key to survival in crowded marketplace
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The National Association of Broadcasters has called on the FCC to allow TV and radio stations and newspapers to combine, eliminate the limits on radio/TV station combos and "substantially reform" the TV duopoly rule, which does not allow common ownership of TV stations in smaller markets.

That came in comments filed with the FCC in its quadrennial review of its media ownership rules Monday. To continue to provide "valuable news, vital emergency information and alerts and popular entertainment" to its audience for free, broadcasters argue, "they must have the flexibility to form competitively viable ownership structures."

Faced with competition from cable and satellite and the almost limitless Internet, says NAB "undue market power is not a plausible rationale for restricting ownership of local broadcasters but not their competitors."
Indeed, says NAB, the big competition they face is how to survive in that environment given the audience and advertising fragmentation.

In its pitch for allowing combos in smaller markets, NAB points to a study of markets 50 and below that indicated stations' pre-tax profits were down 63.7% between 1998 and 2008, with the lower performers losing money.In a separate filing, Sinclair said the suggestion that broadcasters needed some governor on their perceived dominance was just short of a joke.

"the opponents of relaxing the ownership rules appear to be trapped in some sort of time warp," the broadcaster said, "where local broadcast stations dominate the market for providing news and entertainment. While this may have been the case when these rules were first promulgated, an argument that this dominance continues today clearly does not even pass the "straight-face test."

Sinclair took particular aim at the eight-voices test and top-four restrictions on duopolies. Current rules prevent common ownership of any two of the four highest-rated stations in a market, and where a combination of any two stations would leave fewer than eight independently owned stations.

In its comments, Hearst seconds the point about the rise in competition, and says that the audience shares of all video providers will likely continue to slide. "If the past is prologue," says Hearst, "the Commission may rest assured that ten years from now the audience shares of video providers will be smaller than they are today, and the number of video platforms will be greater than they are today."

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