FCC Proposes Eliminating Main Studio Rule

As expected, the FCC voted Thursday to propose eliminating the main studio rule, which for almost eight decades has required a TV or radio station to maintain a main studio in its community of license. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the rule was outdated because in the digital age the community has access and can engage with stations via social media or email without having a physical studio nearby.

He also said maintaining a physical address is an expense better put to other uses, like adding more local programming.

The vote was on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which means the public can comment before a final vote is taken on a report and order.

Broadcast attorneys had petitioned the FCC to eliminate the rule. 

The FCC initially adopted the in-market studio requirement to make sure viewers had easy access to their local station and its management. But the commission loosened the rule in 1987 during its Reagan-era broad deregulation of the industry, eliminating a related requirement that a station originated a minimum number of programming hours from such a studio, and further loosened it in 1998, allowing stations still more facilities flexibility.

Then at the first meeting of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC eliminated the requirement that public files be physically housed in a main office—they can now be made available online only—by dropping the "last vestige" of that rule in January, the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public in their public inspection file.

The vote was unanimous, but commissioner Mignon Clyburn had some concerns. "By tentatively proposing to eliminate the Commission’s main studio rule, it seems to me that we are embracing a world in which automated national programming is the new normal. When the community wants to know what is going on in their backyard, my question is, will simulcasting fill the gap," she said. "And if elimination of the main studio rule is what gives that small market station with just five employees, the chance to keep the lights on and continue producing local programming, then I am empathetic. But we need to think long and hard about the practical implications of eliminating this rule altogether."

But given that it is only a proposal, which will include questions focused on her concerns, she agreed to launch the proposal.

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.