Media General Gets Duopoly Waiver

The FCC has granted a waiver of its duopoly rules to allow Media General to buy WVTM TV Birmingham, Ala., from NBC.

It already owns WIAT(TV) there and both stations are ranked among the top four in the market. Media General is technically not allowed to own them both under current FCC ownership rules. The FCC does not allow duopolies among two of the top four stations.

Media General has promised to sell WIAT within six months--the length of the waiver--and points out the FCC has issued similar waivers.

That is, in part, because the FCC's rules have been up in the air since a court remanded them in 2003. Since then, broadcasters, including Media General and Tribune prominently, have had to seek waivers awaiting the outcome of a just-launched rule review to establish just how many stations the government will allow them to own, and where.

The application for waiver was unopposed.

Media General expects to announce a buyer for the station early in the third quarter, says the FCC. It has also promised the Justice Department that it will operate the stations separately and "maintain competition" until the divestiture.

In granting the waiver, the FCC said it was counting on Media General to aggressively market the station and wasn't anticipating granting it a second, six-month waiver.

Actually, Media General will have to aggressively market a number of stations and WIAT has already been transferred, but it is only a paper sale.

The FCC's Media Bureau Monday also approved the transfer of seven Media General stations, including WIAT, to a holding company, MG [as in Media General] Broadcasting, which will give media general a tax break when it ultimately sells those seven stations to others.

The MG stations will not be treated as Media General's for tax purposes, but will be for regulatory purposes.

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.