Articles Posted in Television

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Today the FCC publicly released a Report and Order eliminating TV stations’ annual obligation to report whether they have provided feeable ancillary or supplementary services on their spectrum during the past year unless they have actually provided such services.  The order was originally slated for discussion and a vote at next week’s FCC Open Meeting, but the Commission wound up adopting this widely supported change early, unanimously voting for it on circulation.

Previously, all digital television stations had to report by December 1 of each year whether they had provided feeable ancillary or supplementary services in the past year, what those services were, and then submit payment to the government of 5% of the gross revenue derived from such services.  Ancillary and supplementary services are any services provided on a TV station’s digital spectrum that is not needed to provide the single free over-the-air program stream required by the FCC.  The reason the word “feeable” is important is that broadcast video streams (i.e., multicast streams) do not trigger payment of the 5% fee.  Examples previously provided by the FCC of feeable ancillary and supplementary services include computer software distribution and data transmissions.

Observers had expected this rule change for a while.  In the spring of 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spearheaded the “Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative,” which aimed to institute a massive review of potentially outdated or irrelevant regulations affecting broadcasters, cable system operators, and satellite providers.  At Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s urging, the Commission originally proposed today’s changes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in October 2017.  The following month, the Media Bureau spontaneously waived the December 1, 2017 filing deadline for TV stations that had not provided feeable services over the prior twelve-month reporting period, signaling that the proposed rule change was likely coming.

Indeed, the FCC received broad support from commenters for the change.  In last year’s NPRM, the FCC noted that of 1,384 full-power commercial TV stations, fewer than 15 reported revenues from ancillary or supplementary services, netting the Commission around $13,000 in fees.

As a result, today’s Order amends Section 73.624(g) of the FCC’s Rules to require that only TV stations actually providing feeable ancillary or supplementary services need file the report in the future.  The FCC could find no justification for the immense expense incurred in having broadcasters submit, and the FCC collect and process, forms merely indicating the station hadn’t provided such services.  It wasn’t so much the FCC concluding that the expense outweighed the public interest benefit; it was the FCC being unable to point to a public interest benefit.

Which just makes you wonder just how this rule stayed in place for nearly 20 years, and no prior FCC bothered to ask that fundamental question.

 

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Each full power and Class A TV station being repacked must file its next Transition Progress Report with the FCC by April 10, 2018. The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of January, February, and March 2018.

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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 April 10, 2018, reflecting programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2018.

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 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 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.

Broadcasters must 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 FCC’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 (i) children’s educational/informational programming, or (ii) 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 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 public inspection file by April 10, 2018, covering programming aired during the months of January, February, and March 2018. Continue reading →

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The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2018, reflecting information for the months of January, February, and March 2018.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station.  The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the public inspection file a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations.  The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below.  We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness.  Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during the license term.  Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs.  Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their public inspection file.  The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.

Preparation of the Quarterly List

The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the public inspection file by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ public inspection files by April 10, 2018, covering the period from January 1, 2018 through March 31, 2018. Continue reading →

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Yesterday’s enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (feel free to read it, it’s only 2,232 pages) was welcomed by broadcasters. If you’ve been following the trade press, you’ll know that’s largely because it not only added a billion dollars to the FCC’s fund for reimbursing broadcasters displaced by the spectrum repack, but for the first time made FM, LPTV and TV Translator stations eligible for repack reimbursement funds.

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This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

April 1, 2018 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas 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 an EEO Mid-Term Report on FCC Form 397 by April 2 (while the mid-point of the license renewal term for stations in the states listed below is April 1, because that date falls on a weekend, submission of FCC Form 397 may be made by April 2, 2018.)

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 when they file their license renewal applications.

In addition, all TV station SEUs with five or more full-time employees and all radio station SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the mid-point 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. Continue reading →

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People often conflate the term “FCC lawyer” with “Communications Lawyer,” thinking of an FCC Lawyer as someone who represents clients solely with regard to interactions with the FCC and its rules. A Communications Lawyer, however, represents communications clients in a variety of venues and on a variety of issues whose common thread is that they affect media or telecom companies in a unique or disproportionate way.  Communications Lawyers therefore find themselves not just before the FCC, but handling complex transactions, litigation, and legislative matters where the harm or benefit has little to do with the FCC, and much to do with how the action impacts a media or telecom client.

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This Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

February 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma 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 February 1, 2018.

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 11 or more 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, February 1, 2018 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.

These Reports will cover the period from February 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018.  However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before January 31, so long as they begin the next annual reporting period on the day after the cut-off day used in the immediately preceding Report.  For example, if the Nonexempt SEU uses the period February 1, 2017 through January 21, 2018 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to January 31, 2017), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning January 22, 2018 for its report.

Deadline for Performing Menu Option Initiatives

The Annual EEO Public File Report must contain a discussion of the Menu Option initiatives undertaken during the preceding year.  The FCC’s EEO rules require each Nonexempt SEU to earn a minimum of two or four Menu Option initiative-related credits during each two-year segment of its eight-year license term, depending on the number of full-time employees and the market size of the Nonexempt SEU.

  • Nonexempt SEUs with between five and ten full-time employees, regardless of market size, must earn at least two Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.
  • Nonexempt SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees, located in the “smaller markets,” must earn at least two Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.
  • Nonexempt SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees, not located in “smaller markets,” must earn at least four Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.

The SEU is deemed to be located in a “smaller market” for these purposes if the communities of license of the stations comprising the SEU are (1) in a county outside of all metropolitan areas, or (2) in a county located in a metropolitan area with a population of less than 250,000 persons.

Because the filing date for license renewal applications varies depending on the state to which a station is licensed, the time period in which Menu Option initiatives must be completed also varies.  Radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above should review the following to determine which current two-year segment applies to them:

  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two year “segment” between February 1, 2017 and January 31, 2019, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2016 and January 31, 2018, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2017 and January 31, 2019, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between February 1, 2016 and January 31, 2018, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.

Deadline for Filing EEO Mid-Term Report (FCC Form 397) for Radio Stations Licensed to Communities in New Jersey and New York and Television Stations Licensed to Communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

February 1, 2018 is the mid-point in the license renewal term of radio stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York and television stations licensed to communities in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.  If a station in one of these respective groups belongs to a radio SEU with 11 or more full-time employees or a television SEU with five or more full-time employees, it must electronically file the Form 397 Report by February 1.  Licensees subject to this reporting requirement must attach copies of the SEU’s two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports to their FCC Form 397 Report.

  • Note that SEUs that have been the subject of a prior FCC EEO audit are not exempt and must still file FCC Form 397 by the deadline.  Electronic filing of FCC Form 397 is mandatory.  A paper version will not be accepted for filing unless accompanied by an appropriate request for waiver of the electronic filing requirement.

Recommendations

It is critical that every SEU maintain adequate records of its performance under the EEO Rule and that it practice overachieving when it comes to earning the required number of Menu Option credits.  The FCC will not give credit for Menu Option initiatives that are not duly reported in an SEU’s Annual EEO Public File Report or that are not adequately documented.  Accordingly, before an Annual EEO Public File Report is finalized and made public by posting it on a station’s website or placing it in the public inspection file, the draft document, including supporting material, should be reviewed by communications counsel.

Finally, note that the FCC is continuing its program of EEO audits.  These random audits check for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule, and are sent to approximately five percent of all broadcast stations each year.  Any station may become the subject of an FCC audit at any time.  For more information on the FCC’s EEO Rule and its requirements, as well as practical advice for compliance, please contact any of the attorneys in the Communications Practice.

A PDF of this article can be found at EEO Public File Report Deadline.

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Each TV station being repacked must file its next Transition Progress Report with the FCC by January 10, 2018. The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of October, November, and December 2017.

Following the 2017 broadcast television spectrum incentive auction, the FCC imposed a requirement that television stations transitioning to a new channel in the repack file a quarterly Transition Progress Report by the 10th of January, April, July, and October of each year. The first such report was due on October 10, 2017.

The next quarterly Transition Progress Report must be filed with the FCC by January 10, 2018, and must reflect the progress made by the reporting station in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the period from October 1 through December 31, 2017. The Report must be filed electronically on FCC Form 2100, Schedule 387 via the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

The Transition Progress Report form includes a number of baseline questions, such as whether a station needs to conduct a structural analysis of its tower, obtain any non-FCC permits or FAA Determinations of No Hazard, or order specific types of equipment to complete the transition. Depending on a station’s response to a question, the electronic form then asks for additional information regarding the steps the station has taken towards completing the required item. Ultimately, the form requires each station to indicate whether it anticipates that it will meet the construction deadline for its transition phase.

These quarterly reports will continue for each repacked station until that station has completed construction of its post-repack facilities, has ceased operating on its pre-auction channel, and has reported that information to the FCC. Until then, the Reports must be filed each quarter as well as:

  • Ten weeks before the end of a station’s assigned construction deadline.
  • Ten days after completion of all work related to constructing a station’s post-repack facilities.
  • Five days after a station ceases operation on its pre-auction channel.

More information about the specific transition phases and related deadlines can be found in this CommLawCenter article on the subject.

A PDF version of this article can be found at 2017 Fourth Quarter Transition Progress Report.

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Each year around this time, Pillsbury’s Communications Practice releases its Broadcasters’ Calendar for the upcoming year.  It may not be the perfect stocking stuffer, but broadcasters that don’t read it closely are much more likely to end up on the FCC’s Naughty List next year.  When I’m on the road visiting stations or speaking at broadcaster conventions, it’s fairly common that someone walks up to me and tells me how much they appreciate the Broadcasters’ Calendar.  Rarely do calendars without pictures attract such attention.

I cannot take credit for the calendar, however.  The current communications lawyers at Pillsbury are merely the stewards of this publication.  When I joined the firm 30 years ago, the Broadcasters’ Calendar was already a well-established annual publication.  I honestly don’t know when the first Broadcasters’ Calendar was published, but I suspect there are editions floating around out there announcing deadlines relating to the launch of FM radio and color television.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Broadcasters’ Calendar is blushing.  Clients have sent me bootlegs in which someone has lifted the content wholesale and just put it on their own letterhead.  For a number of years I entertained myself by incorporating unusual words into the calendar just to see who was copying it outright rather than merely happening to describe a particular deadline the same way.

But it’s not hard to understand why the Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar has developed such a following.  It outlines numerous regulatory and other deadlines broadcasters face in the coming year, along with brief descriptions of what complying with a particular deadline requires.

Despite the advent of a deregulatory FCC, the 2018 edition of the Broadcasters’ Calendar contains a fairly hefty number of entries, including dates and deadlines for TV’s upcoming spectrum repack and the conclusion of radio’s migration to an online public inspection file.  Fortunately, the 2018 edition also notes some filing deadlines that the FCC is actively considering eliminating.  Here’s hoping that the 2019 edition will be significantly thinner.