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FCC Expands Physical Area of Media Ownership Limits

WASHINGTON: The imposition of media property ownership limits previously depended on a parameter rendered obsolete by the digital transition. David Oxenford of Davis, Wright, Tremaine LLC, notes that TV station signal coverage Grade A contours disappeared last June, but the ownership rules based on those contours continued.

Grade A previously represented the core coverage area of a station’s analog signal, the area where at least 90 percent of the households received it 70 percent of the time. Grade B was a 90/50 area. DTV service areas are defined by a Noise Limited Service Contour similar in area to Grade B. The FCC limited ownership of a certain number of TV and radio stations an daily newspapers within Grade A contours.

“In a case decided last week involving the financial restructuringof a radio company, the FCC’s Media Bureau staff decided that they would use the NLSC as a proxy for the Grade A contour until such time as the full commission otherwise directed,” Oxenford wrote at DTW’s Broadcast Law Blog.

He said the determination complicates media ownership because it extends the area of prohibition. That may come into play as the FCC reviews its media ownership rules; an ongoing process.

The case that brought about the new physical delineation for ownership involved Nassau Broadcasting. Some of the creditors taking control of the company’s 52 radio stations also held investments in other media properties, triggering a rules violation.

“As more and more broadcast licensees are forced to restructure their companies, in swaps that reduce debt by giving former creditors equity positions in broadcast licensees, these kinds of ownership issues may well arise,” Oxenford said.

He provides details at DWT’s Broadcast Law Blog. He also wrote about Stephen Colbert’s silly but reasonably accurate parse of trademark law.

“The clip illustrates what we have written before, that the term ‘Olympics,’ like ‘Super Bowl’ and ‘March Madness’ are trademarked, and attempts to use them in commercials or promotions, or to otherwise imply that a product or program;is associated with one of these events, can;lead a broadcaster into legal trouble and potential liability,” Oxenford writes at “Stephen Colbert Olympics Coverage Explains Trademark Law.”

(Image shows predicted contour lines for the analog signal of WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, Md., according