FCC Releases Three More Ownership Studies

One suggests lifting newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban
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The FCC has released three more media ownership studies, and among their conclusions was that there is only minor evidence that newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership impacts the amount of news at the market level and statistically significant evidence it has a "positive correlation" on local news. Another finding was that owning multiple stations in a market does not negatively impact local information programming and has a positive impact on the mix of local and national news.

One study suggested it might be time to lift the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban altogether.

The FCC released five ownership studies last month, which leaves three more it must release for perusal by the public before it can weigh in with how it will change its media ownership rules in response to the quadrennial rule review mandate from Congress and a recent court mandate to rethink its 2007 rule changes.

The just-released studies were on "Local Media Ownership and Media Quality," by Adam D. Rennhoff and Kenneth C. Wilbur; "Local Information Programming and the Structure of Television Markets," by Jack Erb; and "Broadcast Ownership Rules and Innovation," by Andrew S. Wise.

The Rennhoff/Wilbur study found "scant evidence that local media ownership changes media competition or localism" or has any affect on "media usage or programming." The authors took some issue with keeping the newspaper-cross-ownership ban in place. "The lack of television/newspaper integration since the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule waiver criteria were loosened in 2007 leads the authors to question the economic basis for keeping the rule in place, given the influence of newspapers on voter information and turnout, the recent declines in newspaper revenues and news production expenditures, and the potential economies of scope available to joint owners of news outlets in multiple media," they wrote.

But it was only a question, not an answer. "The study does not provide any conclusive basis for policymaking," said the authors.

The Erb study concluded, among other things, that "there appears to be little correlation between multiple-ownership of television stations and local news programming, at either the market or station level...But we do find that multiple ownership and broadband subscribership have a positive impact on the relative mix of local vs. national news programming."

The Wise study, which looked at the impact of ownership rules on multicasting, found that the regs had "little to no effect" on the spread of multicast channels, which it concluded had more to do with the number of stations in a market, market size and competition from MVPDs. Wise conceded that he could not really say what changing the current rules would do to innovation in multicast offerings. "A loose regulatory structure that allowed unlimited consolidation in ownership within or between television markets might result in one-tenth the level of innovation presently observed, or ten times as much."

The FCC says it will use the studies to help inform its decisions about any changes to its rules. The FCC has defended the 2007 decision to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban, but not lift it, and to leave the multiple-ownership limits in place.

The National Association of Broadcasters was reviewing the studies at press time.

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