Pair of Los Angeles TV Stations Agree to Channel-Sharing Test

CTIA: The Wireless Association says it has enlisted a pair of Los Angeles TV stations in a proposed spectrum-sharing pilot project to demonstrate that TV stations can share spectrum and remain a going concern.

The stations are noncommercial KLCS and bilingual, Latino-themed LATV Network station KJLA.

Smaller stations and noncoms in large markets are likely targets of the FCC push to reclaim spectrum given that most affiliates of major commercial networks are not expected to participate in the auction, while smaller stations may be more in need of the cash infusion from giving up spectrum for auction.

CTIA said it was submitting its application to the FCC Jan. 28 for permission to test the channel-sharing plan, which will begin in the first quarter if the FCC grants that permission. CTIA expects that to be the case since it said it was responding to the FCC's own request for demonstrations of "the technical and legal arrangements necessary to implement a successful channel sharing operation.” "We are very optimistic that it will be approved," said a CTIA spokesperson.

“Channel sharing represents a unique option for broadcasters that wish to continue to broadcast over-the-air programming, while also taking advantage of the incentive auction’s once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunity," said an FCC spokesperson, echoing a note FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has been sounding. "We welcome this pilot project proposal, and look forward to reviewing it closely.”

CTIA has been pushing the FCC to reclaim as much spectrum from broadcasters as possible for the incentive auction, in which broadcasters will be paid for spectrum that will then be re-auctioned, presumably to wireless broadband companies.

"We look forward to any new information arising from this pilot program," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "The industry already has a good deal of technical experience with channel sharing, as many stations multicast today, which is channel sharing under another banner. On a technical level, one of the main challenges to channel sharing concerns the ability of the sharers to offer new and innovative services as they are limiting their available spectrum. On the business side, there are difficult contractual provisions that would need to be addressed. We will continue to work with any interested parties to make the process as simple as possible should stations seek to go this route."

If the FCC does give the go-ahead, CTIA says the stations will conduct a series of tests with KLCS "hosting" KJLA content on a shared feed, including testing a variety of HD and SD feeds to see what is feasible. CTIA says there will be no impact on KJLA or KLCS viewers.

"Our test plan takes a deliberate approach to ensure there is no adverse impact to viewers," says Scott Bergmann, VP of regulatory affairs for CTIA."We envision that the content made available through the channel sharing pilot would be available to all consumers in KLCS’ market while ensuring KJLA’s viewers continue to receive their programming without interruption.

The testing parties will produce a report to the FCC on the results.

“We welcome the opportunity to host this important project so that we may share the lessons learned with the FCC and other interested parties," said Alan Popkin, director of TV engineering, KLCS. "We also hope that the pilot program will provide broadcasters around the country with ‘real world’ data to evaluate the opportunity to channel share in the upcoming spectrum auction."

KJLA signaled it has not decided whether to participate in the auction, but that the test will give it information on which to base that decision.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with KLCS to deliver some of our existing programming to a select group of viewers through this unique new platform,” said Francis Wilkinson, VP and general manager of KJLA in a statement. "This partnership will enable us to evaluate the practical impact of channel sharing on KJLA’s signal, and on our multicast content partners and viewers, as we consider our potential participation in the reverse auction."

“Since spectrum is a finite and valuable resource, channel sharing is truly a win-win-win for consumers, broadcasters and wireless providers," said CTIA President Steve Largent (pictured).

Preston Padden, executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which represents stations that may be interested in participating in the auction at the right price, saw it as a win-win. "Sharing Stations get to continue broadcasting and get a big check," said Padden. "What's not to like?"

FCC Chairman Wheeler has been stumping for channel sharing, saying it was a way for broadcasters to both stay in the business and "bolster their balance sheets, reduce capital expenses, and continue their traditional business."

The NAB has been less sanguine about that proposal. NAB President Gordon Smith told B&C in an interview two weeks ago that sharing would mean compromising broadcasting’s competitiveness. "We want broadcasters to know that sharing means separating themselves from the future of broadcast television, by which I mean mobile, 4K, 8K [new HD formats] and multicasting. You are going to need 6 MHz to do that.

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.