Another month is upon us, with the typical list of FCC dates of importance – and some new issues (including incentive auction developments that will probably be a regular part of our news through a good part of next year). One date of importance to some TV broadcasters was yesterday – July 1 – when TV stations affiliated with one of the Big Four TV networks and located in the Top 60 TV markets need to be carrying at least 50 hours of prime time or children’s programming each quarter containing video description. While most of this programming will come from the networks themselves, affiliates in these markets should be now be passing through enough of this video-described programming to meet the quarterly minimums.
July 10 brings other routine filing deadlines. For all broadcasters, by July 10 you should have in your public file (the online public file for TV stations) your Quarterly Issues Programs lists describing the most important issues that faced your community in the prior quarter and the programming that you broadcast to address those issues. Also due to be filed at the FCC by July 10 is your station’s Children’s Television Programming Report on Form 398 describing the programming broadcast on your station to serve the educational and informational needs of children. In addition, TV stations need to place in their online public file information showing compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming and, for Class A stations, documentation showing continued eligibility for Class A status. For other dates of importance to broadcasters, see our Broadcaster Regulatory Calendar, here.July also brings more on the TV incentive auction, where the FCC is looking to pay TV broadcasters to surrender their spectrum so that the spectrum can be repacked into a tighter TV band, with the remainder to be sold to wireless carriers for wireless broadband purposes. On July 9, all TV stations (including Class A stations) that are eligible to participate in the auction (whether or not they plan to do so), need to file technical information with the FCC detailing their current facilities, and certifying that the FCC technical databases correctly identify the current operations of their stations. See our article here. This information will be used by the FCC in determining which stations will be bought out in the auction, and which will be repacked into the remaining TV spectrum.
At the FCC meeting on July 16, the FCC will be considering a number of incentive auction matters, including one very important one addressing the procedures to be used in conducting the auction. In recent weeks, the FCC has also released a number of other orders dealing with the incentive auction that we will summarize shortly. These actions all show that the FCC is moving ahead with its incentive auction plans – still shooting to actually conduct the auction in the first part of next year, with initial expressions of interest in participation being submitted in the latter part of this year. As there are lots of issues to be addressed in the short time remaining before the auction, watch for FCC orders on incentive auction matters to be released at a fast and furious pace.
Another auction, for new FM stations, will also begin on July 23 (see our article here). Applications to participate in the auction for about 130 new FM channels have already been filed, so we will see who will end up with the opportunity to construct these new stations. An FCC EEO audit has also been released, with responses due by July 27. See the FCC letter to the selected radio stations, and the list of those stations, at the link on our article here.
Finally, it bears mention that the closing argument in the Copyright Royalty Board hearing to set SoundExchange royalties to be paid by noninteractive webcasters (including companies like Pandora, and broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet or to mobile devices) will be held in Washington on July 23. The parties to the case (which include both iHeart and the NAB) will argue to the three judges what the outcome of the proceeding should be, based on the evidence presented in the trial that began in late April and concluded in early June. As the trial ran a bit long, this argument was postponed from early June when it was initially scheduled to be held. See our article here summarizing the proceeding. While a final written decision on the royalties for 2016-2020 probably won’t be released until December, many will be trying to read the tea leaves from the judges’ questions and demeanor at this argument on July 23.
These are but some of the issues for July on the always busy regulatory calendar for broadcasters. As always, keep your eyes open for other legal developments that may affect your business.