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FCC Announces New Ownership Report Form for Commercial Broadcast Stations and a July 8, 2010 Filing Deadline

Death, taxes, and ownership reports: all three are unavoidable, but broadcasters had a brief respite from the last one. That respite has now come to an end.

One of the joys of being a broadcast licensee is filing biennial ownership reports detailing the extended ownership structure of each station. These reports used to be called Annual Ownership Reports and were filed, appropriately enough, annually. In an effort to reduce the amount of paperwork flowing between licensees and the FCC, the requirement changed in 1999 from an annual to a biennial one. That created endless confusion, as any particular station’s filing deadline was generally dictated by where it was located. Radio stations in one state would file by April 1 of odd-numbered years, while radio stations in a different state would be required to file by June 1 of even-numbered years. In fact, even TV and radio stations in the same state were required to file in different years.

Because of exceptions to the general rule on filing deadlines (too boring to discuss here), even the FCC had difficulty determining whether a station had been properly filing its ownership reports on time. As a result, the FCC adopted new filing rules in May 2009 establishing November 1 of odd-numbered years as the national ownership report filing date for all commercial broadcast stations. It also introduced a new form requiring more detailed information than in the past, required formerly exempt entities to file reports, and required that the information be entered electronically and repeatedly into the FCC’s filing system for each attributable owner in the ownership chain.

Previously, licensees with complex ownership structures would create a single exhibit describing the complete ownership structure and other media ownership interests, which was then attached to the ownership report for every entity in the chain of ownership. Because the new electronic ownership report form would not allow such attachments, stations (well, let’s be honest; station’s lawyers) were required to reenter the data for each and every ownership report. The reports for even midsize station groups could take months to complete. Initially, the FCC postponed the filing deadline (twice!) to give licensees time to fill out the voluminous reports, but as the FCC’s electronic filing system started to whimper from the volume of data being entered, the FCC postponed the deadline until the form could be reworked to solve the worst of the problems. For those interested, you can read our advisories and alerts from the time here, here, here, here, here, and here (you begin to appreciate the scope of the problem!).

A few hours ago, the FCC announced that a revamped ownership report form is now available which resolves the repetitive data entry issue by incorporating a spreadsheet that, once filled out, can be copied into multiple ownership reports. With the availability of the new form, the FCC also announced that all commercial broadcast stations, including Class A and LPTV stations, must file their reports on the new form by July 8, 2010. For those interested in the details of the new Form 323 and spreadsheet, you can read our Client Alert on the new form, and ponder whether a similar eight month postponement of death or taxes might also be possible.