FCC Gets Earful on Ownership Studies - Broadcasting & Cable

FCC Gets Earful on Ownership Studies

Groups seek more scrutiny of joint operating and marketing agreements
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The FCC
has gotten some outside guidance on new studies to commission as it
conducts its quadrennial review of media ownership rules per congressional
directive (July 7 was the deadline for filing those suggestions), including
that it look at the impact of joint operating and shared services agreements on
the retransmission consent process.

The
American Cable Association wants the commission to study the impact on
retransmission consent negotiations. It argues that allowing broadcasters to
negotiate rights for more than one station in a market (via duopolies, shared
services agreements or local marketing agreements) "reduces competition
among local TV stations and erodes the quality and quantity of the programming
offered by these stations."

The FCC
said last month it was commissioning nine studies on a variety of topics
, but also asked for suggestions on others.

Free
Press, in a massive data drop that included examples of numerous previous
studies, suggested that those studies were similar to the ones done in the 2006
review and that "it is unclear how useful these previous studies were to
informing the commission's ownership review." Free Press complained
about the 2006 studies, citing what they saw as flawed methodology and
inadequate data.

As for
Free Press' recommendations for further studies, it was on the same page with
ACA, saying the FCC should look at the impact of the joint agreements, as well
as news sharing, on the quality of news in a market.

Also
calling for studies of the joint operating agreements were Common Cause, the
United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project, the Media Alliance, the
National Organization for Women, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Communications
Workers of America and the Benton Foundation.

The FCC
arguably already should be teeing up those issues in two studies it has said it
is conducting on "Quantity of local television news and public affairs
programming provided as a function of local market structure" and
"Quantity of radio news and public affairs programming provided and
audience for radio news programming as a function of local market
structure."

The FCC
will have to get the study process moving if it wants to get the ownership
review done by year's end, as has been the plan.

Specifically,
the FCC is looking at five rules: the local TV ownership rule, the local radio
ownership rule, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV
cross-ownership rule, and the dual-network rule. It issued a notice of inquiry
(NOI) May 25 launching the review process, including an open call for study
proposals.

Studies
for recent reviews under former chairmen came under fire from congressional
Democrats and commission Democrats--Commissioner Michael Copps and former
commissioner Jonathan Adelstein--for being used to support already-drawn
conclusions, and for how the winning bidders were chosen. The commission source
said this time around the commission is "leaning toward" a committee
of four or five members who would go through the top bids. There will be a
peer review of the studies.

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