FCC's Wheeler Circulates Item Eliminating UHF Discount

It was a busy day on the media ownership front at the FCC Monday.

At the same time chairman Tom Wheeler was circulating the FCC's quadrennial review of media ownership rules, which retain and even tighten some rules, he separately circulated an order eliminating the UHF discount, an FCC source confirms, which would be an additional cap on ownership.

Under then FCC chair Mignon Clyburn, the commission back in 2013 voted to propose eliminating the discount given that in the digital age UHF stations are now more robust than VHF, a reversal of fortune from the analog days. The UHF discount means that TV station owners only have to count half of the audience reach of those stations toward the 39% national ownership cap. But no final vote was held on the proposal.

The UHF discount item grandfathers existing ownership groups that would be over the 39% cap once the discount is scrapped. But it does not propose replacing it with a VHF discount, which the FCC had asked for input on. Like the quadrennial review, it must still be voted by the full commission.

With the discount gone, UHFs would have to count all their audience, which will be yet another new limit on ownership and would not allow groups including Ion and Tribune to be sold in their entirety.

The National Association of Broadcasters has argued, and did so again in a letter to the FCC last week, that the FCC should not treat the discount in a vacuum but in relation to the goals of the national ownership caps.

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.