UPDATE, 12:41 PM: Public interest groups like Chairman Tom Wheeler’s retransmission consent and TV station shared services agreement proposals better than I envisioned. Public Knowledge says the plans “will represent a meaningful attempt to rein in programming costs.” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron lauded the chairman’s “willingness to steer clear of the mistakes of FCC predecessors who turned a blind eye” to TV alliances and ownership limits. But National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith says he’s “disappointed but not surprised” by the initiative. “The real loser will be local TV viewers, because this proposal will kill jobs, chill investment in broadcasting and reduce meaningful minority programming and ownership opportunities.”
PREVIOUS, 11:00 AM: Chairman Tom Wheeler is sure to frustrate public interest groups with the timid proposals he’s offering as part of the FCC‘s quadrennial review of media ownership rules, which is already two years overdue. He wants to bar two or more of the four biggest stations in a market from jointly negotiating retransmission consent deals with pay TV providers. For other stations, he’d adopt a “rebuttable presumption” that the cost of joint negotiations for retrans deals outweighs the benefits and therefore should be deemed a “failure to negotiate in good faith.” But for the most part he’s just seeking comment on whether ownership limits are still needed, as he “tentatively concludes” that the FCC should keep its restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in a market. The proposal also will ask for comments on whether the agency should eliminate restrictions on combos of newspapers and radio stations, and radio and TV.
Georgetown University Law Center’s Andrew Schwartzman, a longtime public interest advocate, says he’s “disappointed” that Wheeler merely asks for comment on whether TV stations should disclose additional information about joint ad sales and operating agreements — which critics say circumvent ownership caps. Although he is “pleased with the overall thrust of what the Commission is doing” he expects other commissioners “to beef up the orders.” But the American Cable Association likes Wheeler’s retransmission consent proposal. That would “represent a victory not only for fair competition, but also for millions of consumers who are being victimized by TV station conglomerates, which have the perverse idea that collusion is somehow consistent with their legal charter to bargain in good faith,” ACA chief Matthew Polka says.
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