Congress takes another stab at rolling back national audience cap for networks

Failing to reach a conclusion in its efforts to roll back the national audience ownership cap for TV networks which was expanded this summer by the FCC, Congress is likely to take up the matter before the Christmas recess.

A compromise effort to lower the cap to 39 percent appeared likely to gain Congressional support. However, the initiative was part of an $820 billion omnibus spending bill that failed to pass prior to the Congressional Thanksgiving break. The spending bill, as well as the media cap, will be taken up this month in a special session.

In June, the FCC set off a firestorm of debate when it voted 3-2 along party lines to increase the percentage of national viewers a broadcast network is allowed to reach from 35 percent to 45 percent. Opposition to the change from the public and various interest groups was swift and vehement.

After much Congressional wrangling, a compromise effort setting the national cap at 39 percent emerged. The 39 percent cap compromise appears to accommodate station acquisitions by Fox and Viacom that pushed them beyond the existing 35 percent national audience cap.

Another important aspect of the compromise is changing the Congressionally mandated FCC review of media ownership from every two years to every four years.

With emotions running deep on both sides and the prospect of an Administration veto it remains unclear whether the Congressional effort to roll back the FCC’s new ownership rules will succeed before Christmas.

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