Nets Fight for Discount


Broadcast networks are urging the Federal Communications Commission to rethink its decision to phase-out the 50% discount now applied to UHF stations when tallying up a station group's national audience reach.

Under new broadcast ownership rules approved by the FCC June 2, the discount would be eliminated on a market-by-market basis when the conversion to digital is completed. Currently the discount allows Viacom's CBS/UPN stations and News Corp.'s Fox Television Stations to comply with the 39% cap on one company's permissible coverage of U.S. television households.

The FCC said in June that technical disadvantages suffered by analog UHF don't exist in digital broadcasts and that preserving the discount would provide no public benefit. The two nets, joined by sibling NBC, say the FCC has not yet considered the impact of eliminating the discount since Congress rolled the national cap back to 39% from the FCC's initial 45%. "The commission, therefore, should defer consideration of sunsetting the discount until the conclusion of the digital transition for all stations."

Their opponents at the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, on the other hand, say the FCC should stick to its plan to eliminate the discount. "If the commission were to conclude otherwise, it would undermine the integrity and effectiveness of the 39% national ownership limits. by allowing the major networks to acquire numerous additional television stations following the digital transition."

Public advocacy groups opposing ownership deregulation are calling on the FCC to eliminate the discount now, including for analog stations.