Networks and Affiliates Seek to End FCC Dispute

At Issue Are Preemptions During Programming, Future Carriage of TBD Digital Content.

The biggest TV networks and their TV station affiliates want to officially end their FCC fight and get on to other matters, like trying to compete in an increasingly crowded media marketplace.

ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and their affiliate associations have asked the FCC to resolve their long-standing petition on affiliation agreements, including the agreement on when and under what circumstances stations can preempt programming, and the understanding that networks cannot require the future carriage of to-be-determined digital content as part of the contracts. In effect it would be the FCC ratifying agreements the networks and stations have worked out on their own.

"The agreement among the affiliate associations and their respective networks resulting in the new joint request is the product of very constructive discussions among the parties," they said in a statement Monday. "It also reflects a mutual recognition that we, as affiliates and networks, must renew our efforts to work together to address common issues, whether internal matters or the external challenges we face in an ever more competitive media landscape.”

The initial petition was filed by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA) back in 2001 asking the commission to take a number of steps to cure what they said were inequities in the contracts that favored the networks and reduced stations' control over their airwaves.

 The issues heated up in Washington during the FCC's indecency crackdown, when stations complained that they were on the hook for edgy network programming they could not control and did not have sufficient notice of.

 As its name suggests, NASA was an alliance of the affiliate associations for the major networks. But since that 2001 filing, affiliate associations and networks have hammered out agreements on the key points of contention, including rights to preempt programming for a variety of reasons.

In the filing Monday, the networks and NASA joined to ask the FCC to ratify the principles they had agreed to in the interest of "avoiding future controversies" and close the book on the FCC proceeding.

They asked the FCC to explicitly clarify/establish the following:

1. Affiliates retain ultimate control over programming, operations and critical decisions.

2. Contracts cannot allow the networks to hinder or prevent stations from rejecting programming they feel is "unsatisfactory, unsuitable or contrary to the public interest," or prevent them from preempting for "programming of greater local or national importance." That is not an unfettered right, the two sides agree, but the dispositive factor cannot be the economics, and the right may not be limited to breaking news or any other specific category of programming. Stations must also be allowed to preempt unsuitable programming even if they have not done so with a similar program in the past.

They also agree that the networks should not impose any penalties, money or otherwise, for rejected programming.

3. Networks may not "require affiliates to carry, at some unspecified future date, unspecified digital content that the network may, or many not, choose to offer."