Out With the Old

How the FCC modified its media-ownership rules

National TV-Station Cap

Ownership of multiple TV stations

Old: Aggregate coverage of TV-station groups was limited to 35% of 106.7 million TV households. (UHF stations were counted as having half the reach of VHF stations. Discount was intended to compensate for poor over-the-air coverage of UHF stations and to encourage new TV networks.)

Cap is set at 45% (UHF discount is retained but will sunset for stations owned by top four networks when the transition from analog to digital broadcasting is complete.)


Ownership of two TV stations in a market

Two-station combos were permitted only when more than eight separately owned commercial TV stations would remain after acquisitions or when the second station is failing or is an unbuilt construction permit. Also, duopolies were banned among market's four top-rated stations.

The eight-station requirement is dropped, but the ban against combos among four top-rated stations is retained. In effect, duopolies are permitted in markets with five or more commercial stations. Waivers for duopolies among four top-rated stations will be considered on case-by-case basis in markets with 11 or fewer TV stations. Owners of duopolies must offer distinct children's programming on each station in complying with FCC requirement for three hours of children's programming each week. According to BIA Financial Network, the new rules make room for duopolies in 72 markets.


Ownership of three TV stations in a market


Triopolies are permitted for the first time but only in markets with at least 18 TV stations, commercial or noncommercial. In effect, according to BIA Financial Network, they are permitted in six of the top seven markets. Owners of triopolies must offer distinct children's TV programming on each station in complying with FCC requirement for three hours of children's programming each week.

Dual-network rule

Ownership of multiple broadcast networks

Mergers between ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC were prohibited.

Still prohibited.

Newspaper/Broadcast Crossownership

Ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspaper in same market

Forbidden, although combos in 46 markets were grandfathered since 1975.

Permitted in markets with at least four TV stations.

Local Radio Cap

Ownership of multiple radio stations in a market

A sliding scale allowed one company to own eight radios in markets with at least 45 radio outlets, seven in markets with at least 30, six in markets with at least 15, and five in markets with 14 or fewer. A complex system of overlapping signal contours was used to determine how many radio stations are in a market and tended to overstate the number, which, in turn, increased the number of commonly owned stations that were permissible.

The sliding scale remains unchanged, although Arbitron's geographic market boundaries replaces the signal-overlap system. The effect will be to reduce the number of permissible commonly owned stations. How many stations are in non-Arbitron markets will be determined in a future rulemaking. During the interim, signals from powerful distant stations that artificially boost market size will be ignored.

Radio/TV Crossownership

Ownership of TV and radio stations in a market

Radio/TV combos were limited according to market size, topping out at two TVs, six radios in markets with 20 broadcast/cable/newspaper "voices."

Multi-platform limits include newspapers in the combos. Owners in markets with nine or more TV stations face no crossownership restrictions per se but are limited by individual radio and TV limits applicable to specific markets. TV-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 crossownership of TV, radio or newspapers is permitted. In markets with four to eight TV stations, an owner may form one of the following combos:

  • A daily newspaper, one TV station, up to one-half 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.

Note: Existing combos or radio clusters of any kind that don't comply with new limits are grandfathered but may be sold intact once to small businesses, minorities or women and must be held for three years before being sold.


On the record

Oratorically, the FCC can be a pretty dry hole. But the FCC commissioners, voting 3-2 for new deregulatory rules, were often impassioned in their rhetoric. Here are excerpts from what each commissioner had to say.

NCTA Schedule

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association's Annual Convention and International Exposition will be held at Chicago's McCormick Place June 8-11. Here are highlights of the schedule, as of May 15: