APTS Supplies Channel-Sharing Agreement to Stations

The Association of Public Television Stations has posted a channel-sharing agreement on its website for members who may want to cash in on the FCC's spectrum pay day without cashing out of the business altogether.

The form was referenced by an FCC official at one of last week's incentive auction seminars in New York, according to a source, and is even being re-tooled with some input from the FCC, according to an APTS spokesperson, who confirmed the form was being revamped for reposting.

"In December 2014, APTS sent member stations a model channel-sharing agreement for their reference," said the source. "We're revising this agreement and expect to have a new version ready by the end of next week [Feb. 20]."

Giving up spectrum while staying in the business —by sharing a channel or moving from a UHF to VHF channel— would be a way for frequently cash-hungry noncommercial TV stations to collect millions while staying in the business.

But in case some stations want to exit the business entirely, APTS petitioned the FCC to reserve at least one channel in each market for noncommercial service. The proposed FCC auction framework had no such guarantee, which did not please APTS or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Two noncommercial stations in California participated in a channel-sharing test that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler cited as evidence that the auction was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for stations, commercial and noncommercial, to both get a pay day and remain in business. It is an argument he has been making frequently as the FCC tries to get broadcasters to give up spectrum for auction.

Broadcasters appear to be warming to the idea. Two weeks ago, Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision signaled they could be interested in sharing or otherwise staying in the business while still giving up spectrum at the right price. Owners with duopolies are in a good position given that they could put their second station on a multicast channel of the first. Groups with lots of UHF's could get paid for moving to a VHF channel —though less than the payout for giving up spectrum altogether— where they would still get the cable carriage that makes up the majority of viewership.

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.