ACA Asks FCC to Prohibit Some Affiliation Switch, Multicast Moves

The American Cable Association wants the FCC to prevent stations from swapping affiliations in a market so that one station owner programs two of the Top Four networks and to disallow a Top Four network-programmed station in a market from carrying a second Top Four net on a multicast stream. It argues broadcasters will use those to subvert the FCC's new prohibitions on coordinated retrans.

Swaps and multicast moves, it argues, would result in the same undue leverage and potential harms the FCC's recent rule changes were meant to prevent.

That came in comments to the FCC on its ongoing review of media ownership rules.

ACA praised the FCC for its move earlier this year to make joint sales agreements of more than 15% of ad time attributable as ownership interests, and its decision to make joint retrans negotiations of noncommonly owned stations in a market a de facto violation of good faith retrans negotiations. But it says station owners can "effectively cause the same harms that these prohibitions are meant to prevent" by swapping affiliations or programming a second affiliation on a multicast stream.

The duopoly rules only prevent sales that would put two of the Top Four stations in a market in a single owner's hands at the time of the sale.

But "affiliation swaps and dual affiliations result in the identical harm," says ACA. "[I]n each case, regardless of the process by which it obtained its common control, a single owner controls two Top Four stations in the same market (even if one is a multicast stream rather than an FCC licensed "station"), and may negotiate retransmission consent for two Big Four stations at the same time, to the detriment of competition and consumer welfare."

The ACA argues that unless the FCC acts in its quadrennial rule review to prohibit swaps and multicast moves that result in dual Top Four affiliations, "broadcasters will increasingly use each of these mechanisms to consolidate their already substantial market power in local television markets, subverting the intent of the Commission's local television ownership limits without Commission review or oversight, to the detriment of local television competition and the viewing public."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.