NAB to FCC: Market Has Changed, Regs Must Too

The National Association of Broadcasters Wednesday continued its years-long drumbeat for a recognition by the FCC that times and marketplace competition has changed, while regulations have not.

NAB asked the FCC to "come to grips with the impact these changes are having on broadcasters, consumers, the development of content and the flow of information…In light of the tectonic shift in the media landscape, nearly every one of the broadcast ownership rules needs updating," it said, or jettisoning.

It even argued that mergers elsewhere argued for letting broadcasters combine to compete. ""All one need do is look at today’s news and see the massive consolidation that has taken place and continues to take place in industries that directly compete [Comcast/Time Warner Cable, AT&T/DirecTV are currently trying to merge], and in many cases, overwhelm broadcasters," NAB said in its comments. "As a result, media companies, including local TV and radio stations, have had to adjust their business models to remain relevant in a now highly competitive marketplace."

That came in comments — 187 pages including attachments on the FCC's quadrennial ownership reg review. The FCC won't be acting on that review for a couple of years, however. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler set a mid-2016 time frame for acting on the combined 2010 and 2014 quadrennial ownership reviews, a time frame that has drawn criticism from some House Republicans.

NAB took issue with the Justice Department contention that local TV stations don't face competition for local ad revenue from cable and others and said that the suggestion, underlying the FCC's conclusion about the lack of competition to TV stations in local markets, just isn't true.

NAB included in its comments a study finding no evidence that sharing arrangements including joint sales agreements enable broadcasters to charge higher ad rates than markets without such arrangements.

"Purposefully depressing the value of broadcast stations through ownership limitations only makes it more difficult for current licensees to maintain operating capital in order to compete or for possible new entries to secure funding," said NAB in its comments. "It simply has not worked. The time has come for the Commission to consider better incentives-based alternatives."

The bottom line for NAB is that if the FCC recognizes local TV stations have plenty of competition, it can no longer justify a host of regulations, including local ownership caps and crossownership limits.

NAB also says the FCC's request for data on shared services agreements is overbroad and "unrelated to any public interest harm."

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.