FCC Proposes to License Multicast Streams

(Image credit: Future Media)

In a victory for broadcasters, the FCC has tentatively concluded that NextGen TV broadcasters — ones with signals in the ATSC 3.0 standard — should be granted a sublicense of sorts to allow them to contract with another “host” station or stations to carry their simulcast multicast streams, whether that is in ATSC 3.0 or the current 1.0 format.

Currently, stations have to seek special temporary authority (STA) to do so on a case-by-case basis. The new license regime will streamline that. The Federal Communications Commission said the approach was “resource-intensive for both the commission and broadcasters” and made it tough for both the commission and viewers to track where the programming streams were being hosted.  

Also read: Noncoms Back Multicast Flexibility

Hosts had been concerned as to what their legal liability would be. “The licensed multicast stream approach proposed seeks to address these concerns by providing the industry with regulatory certainty about the legal treatment of multicast streams and facilitating their airing on multiple stations,” the FCC said.

While the multicast channels will now be licensed to the originating station, they do not have cable or satellite must-carry rights and won‘t be getting them.

“Given that Next Gen TV stations must, without any additional allocation of spectrum, prioritize serving ATSC 1.0 viewers while voluntarily transitioning to ATSC 3.0, we seek to take actions that will minimize viewer disruption as much as possible,” the commission said. “Specifically, this [action] seeks to facilitate and encourage partnerships that will minimize potential disruptions by permitting stations in a market to work together to preserve viewers‘ access to ATSC 1.0-formatted programming during the transition.”

The commission is also proposing that NextGen TV stations broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 on their own channels can license one of more multicast streams in the 1.0 format on another “host” station, even if they are not simulcasting those streams on their own station.

The FCC is proposing that each of the originating stations‘ “guest” multicast streams on a host station will be considered “an additional, separately authorized channel under the originating station’s single, unified license.”

In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), which sought comment on its proposals, the FCC was responding to a petition from the National Association of Broadcasters seeking that flexibility as TV stations attempt to both transition to the ATSC 3.0 standard, which is not backward compatible, while continuing to serve viewers with sets receiving the standard 1.0 signal.

The NAB said extending the TV station license to cover multicast streams would help establish that the originating content provider, whether primary stream or multicast stream, is responsible for compliance with FCC rules, or liable for potential violations.

The FCC has a mandate that TV stations continue to deliver their primary signal in 1.0 as they transition to 3.0, and said in the NPRM that whatever rules they adopt in the final notice would only apply until the sunset of that local simulcasting mandate.

While the FCC is not imposing must carry on the new licensed multicast channels, it is applying the MVPD-related notice rules in place for primary stations to the newly licensed channels that are relocated to a host station or terminated in the 3.0 transition if those channels are carried on cable due to retransmission consent negotiations. 

It is also applying the consumer-facing disclosures for a 1.0 primary signal that is moved to a host station or terminated after the 3.0 transition, meaning airing PSAs for crawls.

“In addition, we propose to apply our on-air consumer notice rules for 1.0 primary simulcast streams relocated to a host station or terminated as a result of the station’s transition. Under this proposal, a Next Gen TV station that relocates its 1.0 multicast stream to a host station or terminates such multicast stream as a result of the station’s transition to ATSC 3.0 must air daily PSAs or crawls every day for 30 days prior to the date that the stations will relocate or terminate the 1.0 multicast stream.”

”We are pleased the commission is moving forward with this proceeding in response to our petition for rulemaking,” the NAB said in a statement. ”We look forward to working with the commission and other stakeholders to develop final rules that will assist NextGen TV deployments across the country.”

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.