Last year’s FCC decision to make Joint Sales Agreements between broadcast television stations attributable interests (meaning that they can only be done if stations are commonly owned) are back in the news – at least a little bit. Yesterday, at the NAB State Leadership Conference held here in Washington DC, NY Senator Chuck Schumer, a prominent Democrat, said that he believed that Joint Sales Agreements, especially in smaller television markets, were beneficial to the public interest. He said that he has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urging him to grant waivers to allow such agreements to continue. Coming from a Senator of the same political party as the Chairman, that call may have more impact than those that have previously gone to the FCC.
It appears that many broadcasters who had entered into those agreements, who are not currently in the middle of a sale of their companies, have been sitting with their JSAs, waiting to determine what to do with them before the deadline for existing agreements to be unwound – set in December of 2016 by a provision in last year’s STELAR legislation (see our article here). One other factor causing stations to wait on any action is the appeal of the FCC’s decision. The Briefing dates for that case have now been set – with initial briefs due on April 13, and the final of series of other briefs and responsive briefs being due on July 27. No oral argument date has been set yet, but it is likely that the argument itself will not occur until late in the year, so there would not likely be a decision until 2016. Thus, stations waiting to hear about the future of JSAs to which they are a party, may not have much time to decide what to do with their arrangements if there is no decision until 2016.
Note that the FCC has also pledged to rule on its current Quadrennial Review of the broadcast ownership rules by mid-2016 (see our article on some of the FCC’s proposals in that proceeding here). But with so many other issues on their plate, including the TV incentive auctions also scheduled for 2016, waiting for any FCC changes in its rules before the JSA expiration date may well be unproductive. Thus, the waiver route, or the success of the appeal, may well be broadcaster’s best hope for a timely resolution of this issue.