Sports Rules Could Hit Home for Operators

FCC making it easier to watch home-state grid games
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Depending on how several carriage and licensing scenarios pan out, cable and satellite operators could soon find themselves facing a changed distribution regime. And perhaps as important, for some members of Congress, the FCC says it has made it easier for more consumers (read: voters) to watch their home-state college football teams.

The FCC is encouraging satellite operators, for one, to start using the more liberal standards for importing significantly viewed TV stations into local markets, according to commission filings.

The FCC has also proposed phasing out syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules that provide a backstop for local station exclusivity contracts with the networks. Getting rid of those could also make it easier to deliver out-of-market programming to local communities.

According to FCC documents released last week, several legislators have made requests, primarily sports-related, that their constituents get access to out-of-market, in-state broadcasts.

The problem is with markets primarily in one state but with some viewers in another, an issue not unknown to Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.). Eight of his counties are actually in two different Louisiana Nielsen markets, which means they get Louisiana stations on their satellite service, rather than the Arkansas stations that carry news, weather and ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS FOOTBALL!!! (emphasis ours).

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Ross said that no issue “resonates” more with his constituents than having to watch LSU Tigers games rather than the Razorbacks.

Much to broadcasters’ chagrin, Ross has long pushed legislation to allow satellite and cable operators to import adjacentmarket signals. The bills did not pass, but last November, the FCC made it easier for satellite operators to import “significantly viewed” out-of-market stations as part of implementation of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, and Genachowski has told Ross and others that this should help. In a letter to Ross, the chairman said that, for example, KATV-DT is now considered significantly viewed; KATV not only carries Razorback games, but replays them all each week.

Genachowski also said he was urging satellite carriers to take advantage of the FCC’s move to import more of those significantly viewed signals into local markets. The chairman also pointed out that the FCC is considering alternatives to the Nielsen DMAs in a report due to Congress this August.

Genachowski gave a similar answer to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and a number of other Congress members from that state who are concerned about orphan counties, as well as to a delegation from Wyoming. Genachowski told them there were several stations in each state eligible for importation.

Of arguably greater concern to broadcasters was the FCC’s proposal to eliminate the FCC’s syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, particularly the latter, as part of its retrans reform rulemaking.

Getting rid of the network nonduplication rules would be a big change—the NAB suggests it’s a devastating one— because it would allow cable operators to negotiate with a neighboring network affiliate and prevent the in-market affiliate from blocking that importation, says cable attorney Dan Brenner of HoganLovells.

“There’s concern that the commission is looking into network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules,” says NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “But we’re optimistic that a fair review will demonstrate convincingly that these are two rules that are the linchpin for preserving local broadcasting.”

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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