Sinclair: National Cap Split Has FCC in Pause Mode

Ripley says lack of broadcast unanimity is preventing dereg action
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Sinclair isn't looking for the FCC to weigh in on the national ownership cap in the nearterm, its president told analysts Wednesday (Nov. 7), citing the division in the broadcast industry over just what the FCC should do about it.

Asked about the prospects for more deregulation on its third-quarter earnings call Wednesday (Nov. 7), Sinclair President Chris Ripley said: "We don't expect much action on the cap...There has been a lack of unanimity in the industry on that, which I think is preventing the FCC from moving forward on something that I think they do want to deregulate, but we will see if the industry can get on the same page," in which case he said he thought there could be some movement on that front.

In the interim, as Ripley pointed out, the FCC will be launching its quadrennial review of all its media ownership rules before the end of the year per a congressional directive. 

Stakeholders are currently on a number of different pages in the potential national cap playbook.

One split is between broadcasters who want the 39% cap on a broadcast group's national audience reach eliminated--Sinclair is one of those--and those who do not. Another is between those who want it to go away entirely, and those who want it to be lifted for independent stations and affiliates, but not for the network-owned stations they argue are already powerful enough. Another is over what a new cap number should be if the FCC does adjust it upwards. 

Hearst and Scripps have advocated for a 50% cap, for example, while Nexstar says no way, while others say no way.

There was a similar split during ownership cap debates almost two decades ago, debates that split the National Association of Broadcasters along a network/affiliate fault line, though one that was ultimately repaired.

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