WASHINGTON—The new FCC rule eliminating a nearly 80-year old requirement that each AM, FM and TV station maintain a main studio in its community of license will take effect Jan. 8, 2018.
The effective date—30 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register, which occurred Dec. 8.—also applies to other elements of the new rule, including the elimination of the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff on hand locally during normal business hours and that the studio have the ability to originate programming. Broadcasters, however, must continue to maintain a local or toll free telephone number.
The FCC adopted the rule change Oct. 24 by a vote of 3-2. At the time, the agency said eliminating the rule should “produce substantial cost-saving benefits for broadcasters….” The savings, it said, “could be used for programming, equipment upgrades, newsgathering and other services that benefit consumers.” Consumers now have access to local station files online and can take advantage of other ways of reaching broadcasters than actually visiting their studios, it said.
Critics of the change, however, say eliminating the main studio rule is another regulatory rollback that will promote further consolidation of media ownership. They contend large broadcast groups will now be able to produce newscasts and other content centrally and push it out to localities for broadcast there—especially in smaller markets—without regard to the needs of the local communities involved.
An Oct. 25 article by Andy Kroll at MotherJones.com cited experiments by Sinclair Broadcast Group as an example of how this strategy can at times produce “shaky” results. Sinclair in 2016 decided to produce local newscasts for WNWO in Toledo, Ohio, from a centralized studio in South Bend, Ind., which has resulted in “slip-ups and mistakes,” he wrote.
Sinclair is already the crosshairs of those opposed to further media consolidation who wish to derail the broadcast group’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media and its 33 stations.
In comments accompanying the vote to eliminate the rule FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, however, wrote that viewers and listeners in small towns and rural areas will be better served as a result of the agency’s action because “the cost of compliance [with the main studio rule] dissuades broadcasters from even launching stations.” Pai added that “…continuing to require a main studio would detract from, rather than promote, a broadcaster’s ability and incentive to keep people informed and serve the public interest.”