Articles Posted in Television

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

Headlines:

  • FCC Cancels $3,000 Proposed Fine After Discovering TV Licensee Overwrote Children’s Programming Reports
  • Educational FM Licensee Agrees to Pay Reduced Fine of $2,250 for Multiple Violations
  • Failure to Understand FCC’s Filing System Nets $1,500 Fine

Licensee’s Discovery Leads FCC to Cancel $3,000 Proposed Fine

The FCC cancelled a $3,000 proposed fine against a New York TV station after the licensee discovered that it inadvertently overwrote three Children’s Television Programming Reports. The FCC had previously proposed to fine the licensee for the untimely filing of the three Reports.

Section 73.3256 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast station to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) of the rule requires licensees to prepare and place in their public inspection files a Children’s Television Programming Report for each calendar quarter showing, among other things, the efforts made during that three-month period to serve the educational and informational needs of children.

On January 30, 2015, the licensee filed a license renewal application in which it admitted that it failed to file in a timely manner Children’s Television Programming Reports for three quarters between 2012 and 2013. The licensee argued that it was unable to timely upload the Reports because of problems with the FCC’s website and computer servers.

The FCC rejected the licensee’s claim that FCC server problems prevented timely filing, and issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing a $3,000 fine for the late filings. The FCC explained that it was unaware of any server problems that would have prevented timely filing during the quarters at issue, and the licensee failed to provide any evidence to support its claim.

In its response to the NAL, the licensee asserted that after looking into the matter further, it found that it had in fact timely filed the Children’s Television Programming Reports. The licensee included with its response a declaration signed by the employee in charge of filing such reports. The employee stated that the three reports in question were timely filed, but inadvertently overwritten later. Upon discovering that the reports had been overwritten, the station refiled the reports, causing them to appear as though they were filed late. The licensee noted that it had since implemented safeguards to prevent reports from being overwritten in the future.

Based on the new information, the FCC was persuaded that the reports had been timely filed, and therefore rescinded the NAL and cancelled the proposed $3,000 fine.

FCC Reduces $18,000 Fine to $2,250 in Consent Decree With Educational FM Station

The FCC entered a Consent Decree with a North Carolina noncommercial educational (“NCE”) FM licensee, terminating the investigation of the licensee’s multiple alleged violations. The alleged violations included: (1) failure to notify the FCC that the station had gone silent for ten or more days and failure to seek special temporary authority (“STA”) when four of those periods of silence lasted more than 30 days; (2) failure to retain all required documentation in the station’s public inspection file; and (3) failure to file biennial ownership reports. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the licensee agreed to pay a $2,250 fine and abide by a compliance plan.

Continue reading →

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TV broadcasters know that every July 31st, they need to file with the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) to claim a share of the royalty fund for out-of-market carriage of their programming by cable and satellite TV systems.  The details can be found in the Pillsbury Advisory we published earlier this month, which also noted that since July 31st is a Sunday this year, the filings may be made until 5pm (EDT) on August 1.

Under the Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems.  The CRB divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund.  Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2015.

However, a lot of filers wait until the last minute to file, and cross their fingers that the system won’t crash or become overwhelmed by the rush of last minute filings.  The risk of such an approach went up markedly this afternoon, when the CRB released the following notice:

ATTENTION CABLE AND SATELLITE ROYALTY CLAIMS FILERS: ONLINE CLAIMS FILING TO BE TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE TO ACCOMMODATE SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE

The Architect of the Capitol will be conducting scheduled maintenance on the Capitol Hill campus from Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31, resulting in power outages that will cause an interruption in the online claims filing service. The CRB website, www.loc.gov/crb, will be unavailable from 5 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on July 29 through midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, July 31. The CRB website is scheduled to be available again on August 1. The deadline for filing 2015 cable and satellite claims is August 1 this year because July 31 falls on a nonbusiness day. Filers who planned to file this weekend may want to consider completing a paper claim following the instructions on the fillable PDF form on the CRB website. For more details, go to http://www.loc.gov/crb/claims/ before 5 p.m. on July 29.

In other words, if your don’t have your claim on file by 5pm EDT tomorrow, Friday, July 29th, your only window to file electronically runs from midnight Sunday night until 5pm EDT on Monday—a period of just seventeen hours.  Worse, a lot of filers who didn’t learn of this announcement and find themselves unable to file this weekend will also be rushing to get on file on Monday.

Providing a little added drama is the phrase “scheduled to be available again on August 1,” which those of us used to dealing with federal filing systems know is not at all the same as “will be available again on August 1.”  Should there be a delay in getting the filing system up and running, that seventeen-hour filing window will shrink further.  As a result, TV broadcasters would do well to complete their filings before 5pm EDT tomorrow.  Failing that, they should be prepared to take the CRB’s advice and file a paper claim rather than risk missing the August 1 deadline.  The deadline is statutory, so it can’t be waived by the CRB.

Some may find copyright law to be a dull subject, but the CRB has certainly found a way to inject some real excitement into an otherwise mundane process.  Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines…

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This Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

August 1, 2016 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection file and post the report on their station website. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by August 1, 2016.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application. The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities. Nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports with their license renewal applications.

In addition, all TV station SEUs with five or more full-time employees and all radio station SEUs with more than ten full-time employees must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the midpoint of their eight-year license term along with FCC Form 397 – the Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report.

Exempt SEUs – those with fewer than five full-time employees – do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.

For a detailed description of the EEO rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group. This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, August 1, 2016 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations. LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO rules, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a public inspection file. Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request. Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in the station records file. Continue reading →

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The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station’s respective license renewal filing deadline.

Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Illinois and Wisconsin and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in California, North Carolina and South Carolina must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by August 1, 2016. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their station’s public inspection file. Television stations must ensure that a copy of the form is posted to their online public inspection file at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/.

On January 8, 2016, the Commission adopted a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC previously established for all commercial radio and television stations. However, until the Office of Management and Budget approves the new forms, noncommercial radio and television stations should continue to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station’s license renewal application filing deadline.

A PDF of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by August 1, 2016 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and Noncommercial Television Stations in California, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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There is an old vaudeville routine I’ve found more useful for understanding lawmaking in Washington than any textbook.  It goes something like this:

(Scene: a nighttime street corner illuminated by a single streetlight; a short man (Joe) is frantically searching for something near the base of the streetlight when a tall man (Bill) enters from stage left.)

Bill:  Hi Joe.  Did you lose something?

Joe:  I was buying a hot dog at the cart down the street, and when he was giving me my change, I dropped a quarter.

Bill:  Well if you dropped it down the street, why are you looking here?

Joe:  Cause the light’s better here.

When constituents are unhappy, no matter the cause, they make sure their representatives in Congress know it.  In turn, a good politician knows that the worst possible response is to say there really isn’t anything government can do to fix the problem.  So the legislator promises to take immediate action to remedy the constituent’s complaint.  Often, however, the constituent’s issue lacks a governmental solution, or the only solution would create yet worse problems.

As a result, the desire to demonstrate responsiveness leads to legislation that does nothing to actually solve the constituent’s problem, and sometimes makes matters worse.  However, as long as the legislation relates in some way to the subject matter of the complaint, the legislator can claim to have addressed the needs of his or her constituents.  Rather than face the difficult task of explaining the complexities of the issue to constituents, and why the system is working as intended (or at least better than any of the available alternatives), legislators will search for an irrelevant solution where “the light’s better.”

I was reminded of this last week by an exception that proves the rule.  Chairman Wheeler announced the FCC would terminate without further action its congressionally-mandated review of the Commission’s rule requiring that parties to retransmission consent negotiations negotiate in good faith.  Congress had urged the review in response to heavy lobbying from the cable and satellite TV industries for changes to the retransmission consent regime, as well as in response to complaints from viewers frustrated by their pay TV provider’s programming disruptions.  Specifically, Congress directed the FCC to “commence a rulemaking to review its totality of the circumstances test for good faith negotiations under clauses (ii) and (iii) of section 325(b)(3)(C) of the Communications Act of 1934.”

To understand this mandate requires going back to 1999, when Congress passed the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (“SHVIA”).  SHVIA changed copyright law to allow satellite TV systems to retransmit local TV stations, putting satellite TV on an equal competitive footing with cable TV for the first time.  Cable operators had been retransmitting local TV stations for decades, but the lack of a broad compulsory copyright license for satellite providers meant that most subscribers were ineligible to receive broadcast programming via satellite.

Given the monopolistic power of most local cable systems at the time, there was a concern that cable operators would apply pressure on local stations to withhold retransmission rights from satellite providers to preserve cable TV’s continued stranglehold on the programming most desired by pay TV subscribers.  To address this fear, Congress included in SHVIA a provision that would “prohibit a television broadcast station that provides retransmission consent from . . . failing to negotiate in good faith ….”  That the purpose of this requirement was not managing the negotiations themselves, but ensuring that all new entrants, including satellite TV, had an opportunity to negotiate for broadcast programming, was made clear by three associated facts.

First is that good faith negotiation was strangely required of only the broadcaster; the pay TV provider had no such obligation.  This imbalance of rights would have been unthinkable had the purpose of the good faith obligation been to ensure fair negotiations, but it made sense where broadcast programming was in such high demand that requiring pay TV providers to engage in negotiations with local TV stations seemed entirely unnecessary. Continue reading →

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This advisory is directed to television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were carried by at least one cable system located outside the station’s local service area or by a satellite provider that provided service to at least one viewer outside the station’s local service area during 2015. These stations may be eligible to file royalty claims for compensation with the United States Copyright Royalty Board. These filings are due by August 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm (EDT).

Under the federal Copyright Act, cable systems and satellite operators must pay license royalties to carry distant TV signals on their systems. Ultimately, the Copyright Royalty Board divides the royalties among those copyright owners who claim shares of the royalty fund. Stations that do not file claims by the deadline will not be able to collect royalties for carriage of their signals during 2015.

In order to file a cable royalty claim, a television station must have aired locally-produced programming of its own and had its signal carried outside of its local service area by at least one cable system in 2015. Television stations with locally-produced programming whose signals were delivered to subscribers located outside the station’s Designated Market Area (“DMA”) in 2015 by a satellite provider are also eligible to file royalty claims. A station’s distant signal status should be evaluated and confirmed by communications counsel.

Both the cable and satellite claim forms may be filed electronically or in paper form. Electronic versions of these forms are available online at http://www.loc.gov/crb/claims/. To submit claims, stations are required to supply the name and address for the claimant and the copyright owner, provide a general statement as to the nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., local news, sports broadcasts, specials, or other station-produced programming), and submit at least one example of retransmission as a distant signal. For cable claims, stations will also be required to supply the name of the program, the station’s city and state of license, a date in 2015 when retransmission as a distant signal occurred, and the name and location of a cable system that retransmitted the station to subscribers on a distant signal basis. For each satellite retransmission identified, stations will need to supply the name of the program, the station’s city and state of license, a date in 2015 when retransmission as a distant signal occurred, and the name of a satellite provider that retransmitted the station to subscribers on a distant signal basis. Claimants should keep copies of all submissions and confirmations of delivery, including certified mail receipts.

Claims can also be submitted in paper form. Detailed rules as to how the claims must be addressed and delivered apply. Claims that are hand-delivered by a local Washington, D.C. courier must be filed one hour earlier, by 4:00 pm. Claims may be sent by certified mail if they are properly addressed, postmarked by August 1, 2016, and include sufficient postage. The Copyright Royalty Board will reject any claim filed prior to July 1, 2016 or after the deadline. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express cannot be used. Stations filing paper claims should verify the proper procedures with communications counsel.

A PDF version of this article can be found here.

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The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by July 11, 2016, reflecting programming aired during the months of April, May, and June 2016.

Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.

These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.

Note: Broadcasters may no longer use the KIDVID link to file their reports. Instead, broadcasters must now file their reports via the Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

Noncommercial Educational Television Stations

Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.

Commercial Television Stations

Commercial Limitations

The Commission’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend. In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote children’s educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.

For commercial stations, proof of compliance with these commercial limitations must be placed in the online public inspection file by the tenth day of the calendar quarter following the quarter during which the commercials were aired. Consequently, this proof of compliance should be placed in your online public inspection file by July 10, 2016, covering programming aired during the months of April, May, and June 2016.

Documentation to show that the station has been complying with this requirement can be maintained in several different forms:

  • Stations may, but are not obligated to, keep program logs in order to comply with the commercial limits rules. If the logs are kept to satisfy the documentation requirement, they must be placed in the station’s public inspection file. The logs should be reviewed by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rules.
  • Tapes of children’s programs will also satisfy the rules, provided they are placed in the station’s public inspection file and are available for viewing by those who visit the station to examine the public inspection file. The FCC has not addressed how this approach can be utilized since the advent of online public inspection files.
  • A station may create lists of the number of commercial minutes per hour aired during identified children’s programs. The lists should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rule.
  • The station and its network/syndicators may certify that as a standard practice, they format and air the identified children’s programs so as to comply with the statutory limit on commercial matter, and provide a detailed listing of any instances of noncompliance. Again, the certification should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to ensure that it is accurate and that the station did not preempt programming or take other action that might affect the accuracy of the network/syndicator certification.
  • Regardless of the method a station uses to show compliance with the commercial limits, it must identify the specific programs that it believes are subject to the rules, and must list any instances of noncompliance. As noted above, commercial limits apply only to programs originally produced and broadcast primarily for an audience of children ages 12 and under.

Programming Requirements

To assist stations in identifying which programs qualify as “educational and informational” for children 16 years of age and under, and determining how much of that programming they must air to comply with the Act, the Commission has adopted a definition of “core” educational and informational programming, as well as license renewal processing guidelines regarding the amount of core educational programming aired.

The FCC defines “core programming” as television programming that has as a significant purpose serving the educational and informational needs of children 16 years old or under, which is at least 30 minutes in length, and which is aired weekly on a regular basis between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Each core program must be identified by an E/I symbol displayed throughout the program. In addition, the licensee must provide information identifying each core program that it airs, including an indication of the program’s target child audience, to publishers of program guides. The licensee must also publicize the existence and location of the station’s children’s television reports in the public inspection file. The FCC has not prescribed a specific manner of publicizing this information, but enforcement actions indicate that the FCC expects the effort to include an on-air component. We suggest placing an announcement on the station website and periodically running on-air announcements.

Under the current license renewal processing guidelines, stations must air an average of at least three hours of “core programming” each week during the quarter in order to receive staff-level approval of the children’s programming portion of the station’s license renewal application. Stations that air “somewhat less” than an average of three hours per week of “core programming,” i.e., two and one-half hours, may still receive staff-level approval of their renewals if they show that they aired a package of programming that demonstrates a commitment at least equivalent to airing three hours of “core programming” per week. Stations failing to meet one of these guidelines will have their license renewal applications reviewed by the full Commission for compliance with the Children’s Television Act.

FCC Form 398 is designed to provide the public and the Commission with the information necessary to determine compliance with the license renewal processing guidelines. The report captures information regarding the preemption of children’s programming, and requires stations to create an addendum to the form called a “Preemption Report” which provides information on: (1) the date of each preemption; (2) if the program was rescheduled, the date and time the rescheduled program aired; (3) the reason for the preemption; and (4) whether promotional efforts were made to notify the public of the time and date that the rescheduled program would air.

Filing of FCC Form 398

Form 398 must be filed electronically on a quarterly basis. As a result, full power and Class A television stations should file a Form 398 electronically by Monday, July 11, 2016.

Preparation of the Programming Documentation

In preparing the necessary documentation to demonstrate compliance with the children’s television rules, a station should keep the following in mind:

  • FCC Form 398 and documentation concerning commercialization will be very important “evidence” of the station’s compliance when the station’s license renewal application is filed; preparation of these documents should be done carefully.
  • Accurate and complete records of what programs were used to meet the educational and informational needs of children and what programs aired that were specifically designed for particular age groups should be preserved so that the job of completing the FCC Form 398 and creating documentation concerning commercialization is made easier.
  • A station should prepare all documentation in time for it to be placed in the public inspection file by the due date. If the deadline is not met, the station should give the true date when the information was placed in the file and explain its lateness. A station should avoid creating the appearance that it was timely filed when it was not.

These are only a few ideas as to how stations can make complying with the children’s television requirements easier. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on compliance with these rules or for assistance in preparing any of this documentation.

Class A Television Stations Only

Although not directly related to the requirement that Class A stations file children’s programming reports, it is important to note that Class A stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. While the relevant subsection of the public inspection file rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the public inspection file, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the public inspection file on a quarterly basis as well.

A PDF of this article can be found at 2016 Second Quarter Children’s Television Programming Documentation.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

Headlines:

  • FCC Refuses TV Licensee’s Request to Defer $15,000 Fine Until After Incentive Auction
  • FCC Proposes $20,000 Fine for Radio Licensee’s Violation of Multiple Ownership Rule
  • FCC Imposes $12,000 Fine and Short-Term License Renewal for Failure to Maintain Public Inspection File and File Ownership Reports

Red Light Blues: FCC Refuses TV Licensee’s Request to Defer Fine Collection Until After Incentive Auction

The FCC’s Media Bureau rejected a Kansas TV licensee’s request to defer a $15,000 fine for failing to timely file fourteen Children’s Television Programming Reports, and for failing to disclose the violations in its license renewal application.

Section 73.3256 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) of the rule requires licensees to prepare and place in their public inspection files a Children’s Television Programming Report for each calendar quarter showing, among other things, the efforts made during that three-month period to serve the educational and informational needs of children.

In addition, Section 73.3514(a) of the FCC’s Rules requires licensees to include all information requested by an application form when filing it with the FCC. The license renewal application form requires licensees to certify that they have complied with Section 73.3526 and have timely filed their Children’s Television Programming Reports with the FCC.

In April 2016, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”) to the licensee, asserting that since 2011 the licensee had filed fourteen Children’s Television Programming Reports late, and had subsequently failed to report those violations in its license renewal application. After determining that these actions constituted violations of Sections 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) and 73.3514(a), the FCC proposed a fine of $12,000 for the fourteen late reports and another $3,000 for failing to disclose the violations in the license renewal application—for a total proposed fine of $15,000.

The licensee did not dispute the violations. Instead, it requested a waiver of the FCC’s red light rule, which bars stations from receiving certain benefits if they have an outstanding balance owed to the FCC. In October 2015, the FCC waived the red right rule to allow broadcasters that owed debts to the FCC to participate in the Spectrum Auction.

In requesting a waiver of the red light rule and deferral of the fine until after the Auction concludes, the licensee argued that while it did not owe money to the FCC when it filed its reverse auction application, the current $15,000 fine could make it subject to the red light rule in the near future because it is unable to pay that fine. The licensee explained that if it were a winning bidder in the Auction, it would then be able to pay the fine. Alternatively, the licensee requested a 30 day extension to pay the proposed fine in the event that it was unsuccessful in the Auction.

The FCC rejected the licensee’s requests. In doing so, it first noted that the FCC waived the red light rule for only a very limited purpose at the start of the Auction. Second, it stated that since the licensee admitted that it was not subject to a red light restriction when it filed its reverse auction application and is not currently subject to one, and given that the licensee had provided no documentation showing its inability to pay the fine, any request for a waiver would be prospective and speculative.

The FCC indicated the licensee therefore had two options: (i) pay the proposed fine in full, or (ii) seek a reduction or cancellation. Because the licensee did neither, and instead merely provided a statement about its inability to pay the fine without any supporting documentation, the FCC ordered the licensee to pay the $15,000 fine.

Too Soon? Radio Licensee Faces $20,000 Fine for Premature Implementation of Time Brokerage Agreement

The FCC proposed to fine a New York radio licensee $20,000 for implementing a Time Brokerage Agreement (“TBA”) that violated the Commission’s multiple ownership rule before the FCC had an opportunity to rule on the licensee’s waiver request. Continue reading →

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Today, the FCC released a document entitled Fact Sheet: Updating Media Ownership Rules in the Public Interest.  The driver behind the Fact Sheet is the Chairman’s promise to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that draft multiple ownership rules would be circulated among the commissioners by June 30, with the intent of adopting final rules by the end of 2016.  The Fact Sheet trumpets the accomplishment of that task.  It also makes clear, however, that the path the Chairman has chosen in proposing new rules is to further regulate rather than deregulate broadcasters, and to do so without gathering any additional record evidence to defend that regulatory initiative.  This once again places the Commission on the well-trod path of adopting its desired result and leaving the task of defending it in court to a future FCC.  In the meantime, broadcasters remain in regulatory limbo.

In the Fact Sheet, the Commission explains that the record in the proceeding, which consists of the record of the 2010 quadrennial review as supplemented by comments received in response to the Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) that commenced the 2014 quadrennial review, is sufficient to conclude that traditional media outlets remain “of vital importance to their local communities.”  Based on this finding, it concludes that continued regulation of the industry is in the public interest.  The Fact Sheet goes on to detail how each of the Commission’s existing media ownership rules will be “tweaked”, but otherwise reaffirmed, save the rules affecting television ownership, which will be tightened.

The Fact Sheet summarizes the proposed rules as follows:

  • The local television ownership rule, which prohibits common ownership of two full-power television stations in a market with fewer than eight independent television owners, and the common ownership of two Top-Four television stations in any market, will be left intact other than to update it to reflect the transition to digital television. However, the new rules will expand the prohibition against ownership of two Top-Four stations in the same market to apply to “network affiliation swaps, to prevent broadcasters from evading” the local ownership limits.
  • The controversial rule that the Commission adopted in 2014 treating TV Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) as ownership interests (which the Third Circuit recently invalidated) will be reinstated, although existing JSAs will be granted some type of grandfathering relief, consistent with what the Fact Sheet terms Congress’ “guidance” on that issue. The Fact Sheet does not provide any details, nor address whether such grandfathered JSAs will be assignable.
  • TV Shared Services Agreements (SSAs) will now have to be placed in television stations’ online public inspection files. The agreements subject to this provision will be numerous, as SSAs are broadly defined by the Fact Sheet as “[a]ny agreement in which (1) a station provides another station, not commonly owned, with any station-related services, including administrative, technical, sales, and/or programming support; or (2) stations not commonly owned collaborate to provide station-related services, including administrative, technical, sales and/or programming support.”
  • The existing radio ownership rules will remain unchanged except for some “minor clarifications to assist the Media Bureau in processing license assignment/transfer applications.” An example provided of such a clarification is addressing how to define radio markets in Puerto Rico.
  • While the FCC tentatively concluded in the 2014 FNPRM that the Radio/TV Cross-Ownership prohibition is no longer needed for competition or localism purposes, and that the record indicated elimination of the prohibition would not adversely impact ownership diversity, the Fact Sheet, in keeping with its pro-regulation theme, reverses course and states the rule will be retained unchanged except for an update to reflect the transition to digital television.
  • Similarly, while the FCC suggested in the 2014 FNPRM that radio should be eliminated from the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership prohibition, the Fact Sheet indicates that the current rule will be retained, but updated for digital television, and will now incorporate a failing or failed station/newspaper waiver standard.
  • The Dual Network Rule, which prohibits common ownership of ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, will remain unchanged.
  • The Eligible Entity Standard, which determines which entities are eligible for favored regulatory treatment under the multiple ownership rules, was also affected by the recent Third Circuit decision.  The court ordered the FCC to collaborate with advocacy groups on a timeline to adopt a new standard and urged the Commission to engage with those groups on the substance of that standard as well.  The Fact Sheet indicates that the FCC will simply reinstate the prior revenue-based standard, rejecting the advocacy groups’ proposals to use a race or gender-based standard.

While today’s news is hardly surprising, it is disappointing for those waiting for the FCC to address (or even acknowledge) competitive realities that weren’t dreamed of when the FCC completed the 2006 quadrennial review.  For the most part, the Fact Sheet tracks the rules proposed in the even-further-out-of-date-now-than-it-was-then March 2014 FNPRM.  To the extent it varies from the FNPRM, it does so by rejecting any deregulatory proposals, increasing the regulatory burden on broadcasters beyond what was contemplated in 2014.

It wouldn’t be the first time the FCC has had to proceed on an out-of-date record, this time under pressure from the Third Circuit to do something (anything?) before the year is out.  However, expanding TV regulations beyond what the FCC felt could be justified a decade ago will take more than wishful thinking to defend in court, and the decision to go down that path without seeking further comments on the specific new proposals means that the regulatory uncertainty for broadcasters will continue until the courts have had a chance to weigh in.  It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that it is judicial review, and not the FCC’s quadrennial review, that will determine the rules under which 21st Century broadcasters will operate.

Published on:

May 2016

On May 18, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor published final regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that more than double the minimum salary level necessary to be exempt from the Act’s overtime rules.  While the changes affect all businesses subject to the FLSA, broadcasters in particular may feel the impact of the changes given the staffing models used by many TV and radio stations. The new requirements will go into effect on December 1, 2016, and broadcasters need to take steps to adapt to, and minimize the impact of, those changes prior to that deadline.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is the federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employees.  Pursuant to the FLSA, employers must pay employees a minimum wage and compensate them for overtime at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time worked exceeding 40 hours in a workweek unless those employees are exempt from the requirement. On May 18, 2016, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule that effectively doubled the minimum salary threshold for certain types of employees to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, and significantly raised the salary threshold for other types of employees. As a result, many currently exempt employees whose salaries are below the new thresholds will soon be eligible for overtime pay. The White House projects the change will impact over four million previously exempt American employees.

Although the FLSA applies to almost all employers, it contains exemptions for certain types of employees at small-market broadcast stations. The Final Rule does not affect these specific broadcast industry exemptions, but will affect many other currently exempt employees in the broadcast industry who, unless they receive salary raises, will soon become eligible for overtime pay.

This Advisory only addresses federal law. Some state laws impose stricter standards than federal law as to which employees are exempt from overtime pay. Employers must ensure that they also meet the requirements of any applicable state or local employment laws.

Overview

The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 hours per workweek. However, the FLSA exempts from its overtime rules certain classes of employees who are paid on a salary basis and meet specific “white collar” duties tests. The Department of Labor’s Final Rule increases the minimum salary necessary for these classes of employees to be deemed exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, but does not alter the duties tests for those exemptions.  (Continued…)

A PDF version of this entire article can be found at A Broadcaster’s Guide to the U.S. Department of Labor’s New Overtime Exemption Requirements.