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TV duopoly twists

One of the most interesting twists in the TV ownership regulations adopted June 2 was that the commission's decision not to attribute television joint sales agreements (JSA) under the television ownership rules, even though it will attribute JSAs under the new radio ownership rules. The commission did not distinguish the two services, but rather distinguished the two divergent procedural paths to adopting the new rules.

During the ownership proceeding, the commission provided notice that it was contemplating making radio JSAs attributable; thus, the public had an opportunity to comment on that possibility. But the commission did not articulate, and the public could not consider or comment on, any equivalent proposal on the TV side. The resulting inconsistency is likely to be fixed soon. The commission has pledged to initiate a new rulemaking to address the attribution of television JSAs.

FCC proposes DTV rules for translators and LPTV

The FCC has issued a rulemaking notice proposing new rules to govern the DTV transition of TV translator, LPTV and Class A TV stations. The agency wants to make over-the-air DTV service available in rural America, where most TV translators and many LPTV stations now operate.

For DTV translators the FCC is proposing that:

  • Stations be technically capable of retransmitting the complete signals of DTV broadcast stations.
  • Local message insertions be permitted, with the possibility that operators will be able to alter the content or video format of their signals.

For LPTV and Class A TV stations operating in the DTV mode, the FCC is proposing that:

  • DTV signals must have video resolution at least comparable to that of an analog TV signal.
  • Remaining DTV capacity would be available for ancillary services such as data transmissions.

For both TV translators and LPTV stations the FCC is seeking comment on the following additional issues:

  • Whether the spectrum made available for DTV operations should be limited to channels in the core (channels 2-59), or whether channels 60-69 should be made available — at least during the transition, and perhaps permanently where core channels are not available.
  • How the commission should assess the interference potential of TV translator and LPTV stations, i.e., whether current contour overlap standards are sufficient or, alternatively, if the agency should use the DTV interference values applicable in evaluating interference from Class A TV stations.
  • Whether the first round of DTV transition applications should be limited to incumbents, with follow-up windows to accommodate new entrants.
  • Whether the DTV transition deadlines applicable to full-power TV stations should apply to TV translators, LPTVs and Class A stations.

This proceeding raises the issue of whether the FCC will impose “flash/cut” deadline on TV translator and LPTV licensees. Translator and LPTV operators do not have a companion DTV channel, which they can use to build a DTV audience during the transition. If a trigger mechanism is adopted, such as the 85 percent penetration test that applies to full-service DTV, there could be problems for operators and viewers in rural areas because audiences depending on translators and LPTVs for over-the-air service likely would be the people who would constitute most of the 15 percent without DTV sets. These people would lose service when DTV penetration in the larger communities in a market cause the market to reach the 85 percent threshold and trigger a flash/cut to DTV.

Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.

Dateline

Television stations in the following locations must file biennial ownership reports in their public files on or before Oct. 1: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Washington. On the same date stations in these locations must place their Annual EEO Reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com

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