Gray Asks FCC to Repeal TV Duopoly Rule

Gray Television told the FCC Monday that it should repeal, or at least relax, its TV duopoly rule, using its recent coverage of deadly twisters to argue that "innovative cost-sharing and services arrangements" would help provide even more such life-saving coverage.

Gray pointed to its WKYT TV Lexington, Ky., reporting on the tornadoes that hit too close to home last week, including its five our of commercial-free coverage during the height of the storms. expanding the 11 p.m. newscast to continue tracking them, and adding three hours of news in the morning to follow up on the storm's aftermath.

Gray takes issue with what it says is the FCC's implicit suggestion that broadband penetration must be 100% before the Internet will be included as a competitor to broadcast TV when it comes to ownership rule reviews. The company argues that the Internet, including blogs and twitter, are already having a major impact that the FCC has to take into account.

"Despite the profound changes in the media marketplace that have taken place in recent years, the Commission proposes no significant revision to the television duopoly rule,17 leaving broadcasters with a restriction that was last relaxed in 1999," said Gray in its filing. "With the exception of that rule, very little about the world has remained the same since 1999. Thirteen years ago, a Blackberry was just a two-way pager; the Internet was accessed using a phone line; and Google, Facebook, and YouTube were years away."

As a fall-back position, Gray says that if the FCC does retain the rules -- as is likely -- it should replace the eight-voices test and top four restrictions to something a bit more flexible. Currently, the FCC does not allow duopolies in markets where the combo would leave fewer than eight independently owned stations, or combos among any of the top-four rated stations.

Gray also argues that the FCC should not start counting joint services and marketing agreements toward its ownership rules. In a separate proceeding, the FCC has sought comment on whether that change should be made in a separate proceeding. "The average small or mid-sized market station budgets approximately $1.8 million per year for capital and operating expenses to produce its local news," said Gray. "Yet in many of these same markets, broadcasters realize less than $10 million in total revenue. Without management and shared services agreements, therefore, many small and mid-sized market broadcasters would be left with little alternative but to curtail local news efforts or even to cease news operations altogether...There is no reason now to overturn decades of precedent or alter the attribution rules."

The FCC has signaled it intends to leave the duopoly rules in place, and broadcast lobbyists are not looking for much relief beyond the FCC's proposal to loosen TV-newspaper crossownership and allow radio-TV crossownerships, the latter which few broadcasters have been arguing for anyway.

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.