October 1, 2020 is the deadline for broadcast television stations to make must carry and retransmission consent elections for the next three-year carriage cycle. A station’s election will determine its carriage status on multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the station’s Designated Market Area (DMA) for the January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2023 cycle.

New Election Procedures: Under the FCC’s new procedures, must carry and retransmission consent elections are now made 100% electronically. Stations will upload their election choices to their online public inspection files, and in some instances will also send e-mails to MVPDs. Stations no longer need to send certified-mail letters to each cable and/or direct broadcast satellite (DBS) provider in their DMAs.

If a station makes the same election for all MVPDs in its DMA, it can upload a single blanket statement to that effect stating simply: “[Station call sign] elects [must carry/retransmission consent] on all MVPDs in the [DMA Name] Designated Market Area for the 2021-2023 carriage cycle.”

If—but only if—a station changes its election choice from the previous carriage cycle, it also needs to send notice to the affected MVPDs by e-mail, using the carriage election-specific e-mail address identified by MVPDs in their online public inspection files. For example, if a station currently has must carry status on a particular MVPD, and it wants to elect retransmission consent for the 2021-23 cycle, the station must upload its election to its online public inspection file and also inform the affected MVPD by email. The station should send a “carbon copy” of its email to [email protected] and upload a copy of the email to its public inspection file. Change notices must include specific information, including call sign, community of license, DMA where the station is located, the specific change being made in election status, and an e-mail address and phone number for carriage-related questions. MVPDs are supposed to acknowledge these e-mails, but if they do not, broadcasters must follow up by phone.

If a commercial television station fails to make an election by October 1, 2020, it will be deemed by default to have elected must carry for cable carriage and retransmission consent for DBS carriage.

Noncommercial, LPTV, and translator stations have different election procedures than commercial stations. For example, noncommercial stations are limited to must carry status. They do not have to notify cable companies of their must-carry “elections,” but they do have to “request” carriage from DBS providers in order to affirmatively gain mandatory carriage status on those satellite systems. Because noncommercial stations are not eligible to elect retransmission consent, they have no obligation to send election change notices. Contact one of our attorneys if you operate a noncommercial, LPTV, or translator station and you need information about making carriage elections for the 2021-23 cycle.

Geographic Area: A commercial television station may demand must-carry status on all cable systems within its Nielsen-defined television market. Noncommercial stations have must-carry rights on cable systems whose principal headend is located within 50 miles of the reference point for the community to which the station is licensed, or on any cable system of which the principal headend is located within the station’s digital noise limited service contour.