Cross-Ownership Study: Impact on Minority/Female Ownership 'Probably Negligible'

"It appears from this study that cross-media interests'
impact on minority and women broadcast ownership is not sufficiently material
to be a material justification for tightening or retaining the [cross-ownership]

That was the conclusion of the Minority Media and
Telecommunications Council and BIA/Kelsey study submitted to acting FCC chairwoman
Mignon Clyburn and the other FCC commissioners Thursday morning, according to a
copy of the study made available to B&C/Multichannel News. Clyburn was
instrumental in getting the FCC to agree to further explore the impact of its
rules on diverse populations. Clyburnpraised the proposed study when MMTC offered it up, saying it "could
shed greater light on any potential harms that may result from increased media

"The results of this study, while not dispositive, do
provide evidence that the impact of cross-media ownership on minority and women
broadcast ownership is probably negligible," said BIA/Kelsey.

One reason they were not dispositive was that the survey was
based on only 14 respondents (representing 31 stations) in markets with grandfathered
cross-ownership combos and with stations owned by minorities and/or women.
BIA/Kelsey conceded more responses would have been preferable, but argued that
it was never meant to be a comprehensive, random sample survey of all
cross-media combos in markets with minority and women owners. It said the
answers it did get were "sufficiently compelling and unambiguous" to
support its conclusion of, essentially, no harm, no foul.

But there were caveats.

MMTC president David Honig pointed out in a letter to the
FCC that there was one market in which all the respondents mentioned
cross-media interests as having a competitive impact. That came in a medium
market with a combination of the only daily newspaper, a full-power TV station
and radio stations.

"We interpret this finding as an indication that an
especially extensive cross-media combination, although lawful under the rules,
could materially inhibit 'singleton station' operations in the advertising
marketplace," he said. "Inasmuch as minority owned stations are more
likely than others to be singleton stations, we recommend that the Commission
be alert to the possibility that a cross-media combination, with strong
newspaper, television and radio outlets in a medium (or small) market, can have
sufficient market power to operate as a material detriment to minority and
women ownership."

A second caveat was that the study only looked at the impact
of cross-ownership on diverse ownership.

So, "there may be sound justifications relating to
overall viewpoint diversity, localism, or competition for why the
cross-ownership rules should or should not be changed," said Honig. He also
said that if the FCC did want to use the study to render a decision on the
rules, it should put the results out for public comment.

 Free Press, whichhas already complained that "a study endorsed by the broadcast and
newspaper lobbies, and carried out by an analyst who has on several occasions
expressed support for weakening the very rules he seeks now to evaluate, cannot
be substituted for independent research and agency action."

Echoed that sentiment after seeing the result.

"MMTC based its conclusions on an opinion survey of existing media owners,"

said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood. "This qualitative approach might have yielded some interesting anecdotes, but it's not a substitute for real analysis of likely outcomes from the disastrous rule changes pushed by former Chairman [Julius] Genachowski. We'll review the survey, and take part if and when the FCC seeks comment on it. But there's nothing surprising about the fact that MMTC - a group on the record as supporting more media consolidation - would design and produce a survey claiming that no harm results from consolidation."

On Feb. 26, then-chairman Julius Genachowski agreedto hold up on a vote on his proposed media ownership revisions -- tweaking
the ban on radio/newspaper cross-ownership to allow for at least the greater
possibility of TV/newspaper cross-ownerships in larger markets and lifting the
radio/newspaper cross-ownership ban -- until the MMTC and BIA/Kelsey study was

Thatwas after minority groups and others complained that the FCC had not gauged
the impact of its proposed loosening of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership

The FCC is already years behind on its 2010
quadrennial media ownership rule review, thanks in part to court challenges
that tied up a previous, similar, rule change proposal by Republican chairman
Kevin Martin.

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.