New FCC rules have twists

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Although new broadcast-ownership changes approved Monday by the Federal
Communications Commission matched many of the details leaked in the weeks
leading up to its vote, there were some new twists.

Despite a declared ban on TV duopolies comprising stations among a market's
four top-rated outlets, the FCC adopted a case-by-case wavier process for
reviewing requests to pair up a market's dominant stations.

The rule was adopted among several sweeping changes to FCC
broadcast-ownership rules and was included to quell the complaints of
broadcasters that new duopoly limits didn't do enough to permit TV pairs in
markets too small to support more than four stations or where scant ad revenue
threatens survival of lower-rated stations.

Waivers will be considered in markets with 11 or fewer TV stations, according
to the FCC's new standard.

The small-market duopoly was one of several details unveiled by the agency
Monday that had not leaked since the proposal was circulated to commissioners
three weeks ago.

In general, the new duopoly limit bans TV pairs among a market's four leading
stations, effectively requiring a market to contain at least five commercial
stations.

Since 1999, duopolies have been permitted only in markets where at least eight
separately owned stations would remain.

As expected, other rules approved Monday permit TV "triopolies" in markets
with at least 18 TV stations, drop the absolute ban on broadcast-newspaper
cross-ownership in markets with at least four TV stations and raise the national
audience-reach cap for station-group owners from 35% to 45%.

Media Bureau chief Ken Ferree also confirmed that in trioply-eligible markets,
six owners could conceivably own a set of three-station combos.

Nothing would prevent those owners from also owning up to eight radio
stations each and some perhaps also owning newspapers or local cable systems.
(However, such powerful local clusters would also need to win approval of
antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade
Commission.)

The FCC also replaced cross-ownership restrictions limiting the total number
of radio and TV stations one owner could control in a market with a new
multiplatform limit that also includes newspapers.

Under the new restrictions, owners in markets with nine or more TV stations
will not face cross-ownership restrictions per se, but they are limited only by the
individual radio and TV limits that apply to a specific market.

In markets containing between four and eight TV stations, an owner may form
one of the following combos:

  • A daily newspaper, one TV station, up to one-half of the number of radio
    stations permitted to one owner in that market.
  • A daily newspaper, the total number of radio stations permitted to one
    owner there, no TV stations.
  • Two TV stations and the total number of radio stations permitted
    there.

Duopoly owners would not be permitted to own newspapers in markets with fewer
than nine TV stations.

In markets with three or fewer TV stations, no cross-ownership of TV, radio or
newspapers is permitted

The sliding scale determining the total number of radio stations permitted
for one owner in a market remains unchanged.

In markets with 45 radio stations, one company may own eight; with at least 30
stations, seven can be owned; with at least 15 stations, six; and with 14 or fewer
stations, five.

Among the other changes: Noncommercial stations now count toward a market's
station/voice total, and children's programming on one station in a duopoly cannot
be repurposed on a second and count toward the FCC's kids TV requirements. The
two stations must have distinct children's offerings to comply with the
three-hour weekly obligation.

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