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What Washington Has in Store for Broadcasters in 2016 – Looking

It’s that time of the year when we need to dust off the crystal ball and make predictions about the legal issues that will impact the business of broadcasters in 2016. While we try to look ahead to identify the issues that are on the agenda of the FCC and other government agencies, there are always surprises as the regulators come up with issues that we did not anticipate. With this being an election year, issues may arise as regulators look to make a political point, or as Commissioners look to establish a legacy before the end of their terms in office. And you can count on there being issues that arise that were unanticipated at the beginning of the year.

But, we’ll nevertheless give it a try – trying to guess the issues that we will likely be covering this year. We’ll start today with issues likely to be considered by the FCC, and we’ll write later about issues that may arise on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the maze of government agencies and courts who deal with broadcast issues. In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

So here are some issues that are on the table at the FCC. While the TV incentive auction may well suck up much of the attention, especially in the first half of the year, there are many other issues to consider. We’ll start below with issues affecting all stations, and then move on to TV and radio issues in separate sections below.

General Broadcast Issues

Issues likely to be considered this year that could affect both radio and television broadcasters, include:

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: In 2014, the FCC addressed its long outstanding Quadrennial Review of the broadcast multiple ownership rules by pushing its consideration of most of the rules until 2016. Even the one issue considered in 2014, prohibiting Joint Sales Agreements between TV stations in the same market that could not be commonly owned, has been put on hold for a decade by a recent act of Congress, grandfathering all of the JSAs that were in effect prior to the FCC’s 2014 decision. But, reach across the broadcast spectrum. Issues that are to be considered in the ownership review that is supposed to take place this year include revisions to the local ownership limits for radio or TV (such as loosening the ownership caps for TV stations in smaller markets, which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would not do), any revision to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule (which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would consider – perhaps so that this rule can be changed before the newspaper becomes extinct), and questions about the attribution of TV Shared Services Agreements (which the FCC is already scrutinizing under an Interim Policy adopted by the Media Bureau).

Also under consideration is whether the FCC should continue to apply “the UHF discount” in assessing compliance with national ownership caps for TV, an issues which is discussed in more detail in the Television section, below.

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