Station Loses ‘Significantly Viewed’ Status After Off-Air Viewership Drops

Distant stations that are rated as “significantly viewed” in a given market can avoid having programming duplicating that of a local station deleted from cable systems within that market. In general to qualify as “significantly viewed,” a distant network affiliate's survey results should exceed a three percent share of total viewing hours and a net weekly circulation of 25 percent. Out-of-market independent stations must exceed a two percent market share and have a net weekly circulation of five percent.

Gray Television Licensee LLC, licensee of WHSV-TV (Fox) in Harrisonburg, Va. has filed a petition with the FCC seeking a waiver of rules that precluded cable operators in Harrisonburg and Staunton, Va. from deleting duplicate programming of WTTG (Fox), which is located in Washington, D.C., so that it could enforce its exclusivity rights against WTTG. No one opposed the WHSV-TV petition.

In the commission's Memorandum Opinion and Order (DA 13-1759) granting the petition, the FCC explained, “WTTG is considered to be significantly viewed under the Commission’s original 1972 list of significantly viewed stations in the two Virginia communities at issue--Harrisonburg and Staunton.”

Gray asserted WTTG fell far short of the required minimum circulation and share threshold for “significantly viewed” status and maintained that WTTG cannot actually deliver an off-air signal to Harrisonburg or Staunton. WTTG transmitted on analog Channel 5 prior to the DTV transition and now operates on Channel 36.

Gray Television submitted Nielsen surveys of off-air viewing which showed that WTTG had no measurable off-air viewing during any of the four reporting periods in two years. Based on these surveys, the FCC found that “WTTG no longer meets the criteria for significantly viewed status in Harrisonburg and Staunton, Virginia.”

Considering that the FCC's list of “significantly viewed” stations was formulated long before the first DTV transmissions began, I wouldn't be surprised if other local TV stations with competition from distant stations started challenging cable companies' right to carry duplicated programming based on this 1972 “significantly viewed” list.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.