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FCC Seeks Comment on 'Significantly Viewed' Station Regime

The FCC has unanimously agreed to seek public comment on whether the FCC's current method for determining whether a TV station is significantly viewed outside its FCC market is outdated and overly burdensome and needs changing. 

A determination of significant viewership in an adjacent market allows an MVPD serving that adjacent market to carry that out-of-market station, even if it duplicates in-market syndicated or network programming. That importation is otherwise prohibited by the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules. 

Related: FCC Releases Agenda for March Meeting 

In suggesting it might be time for a change, the FCC points out that the current significantly viewed metric is 50 years old and it is unclear whether the necessary over-the-air viewership data is still available. 

In addition to input on whether the current regime is, indeed, "outdated and overly burdensome," the FCC wants comment on "whether there are commercially available sources that are able to provide the over-the-air viewership data needed to demonstrate a station’s significantly viewed status, particularly for communities in smaller markets; what modifications or updates should be made to the current process for establishing whether a station is significantly viewed in a community outside of its local market; and whether to update the definitions of 'network station' and “independent station” used in making significantly viewed determinations." 

Specifically, the item seeks comment on, among other things, whether Nielsen or some other methodology should be used to determine "significantly viewed" status and whether terminology, like "independent station" or "partial network station" should be updated given changes in the marketplace. 

The topic of the 'Significantly Viewed TV Stations List' is appropriately sensitive, as it represents a departure from certain FCC rule protections that are relied upon by many local network affiliates," said FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly in a written statement. "Specifically, it provides an exception to the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules, which protect local broadcast stations from other stations broadcasting much of the same programming within the same television market. However, recent changes by Nielsen to modernize how the company measures viewership have resulted in the need to revisit how the exception for significantly viewed stations operates, and I look forward to seeing how the record develops around these ideas."