Changes to FCC’s Media Ownership Rules Costly to Consumers?

Changes to FCC’s Media Ownership Rules Costly to Consumers?

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With the filing deadline rapidly approaching to submit reply comments in the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding, another major media issue looms large.

Multichannel News reports that the FCC is moving quickly to pass a media ownership order that “would allow newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV crossownership.” The Commission, which is now armed with a full slate of Commissioners, could issue this order as early as this fall.  As John Eggerton reports, “the item also could remove the prohibition on owning two of the top four-rated stations in a market and ‘tweak’ the eight-voices test for allowing duopolies (two stations in a market owned by a single entity).”

Eggerton provides a detailed recap of the history of media cross-ownership rules and the current state of play for those less familiar with the issue. But this proceeding is particularly timely in view of the pending proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media.

As reported by Variety, the “union of Sinclair and Tribune would create a broadcast TV behemoth with more than 200 stations reaching 72% of U.S. TV households.” Sinclair, and companies in favor of refinements to the FCC’s media ownership rules, argues that “the future of local television is threatened unless TV station owners are allowed to bulk up to compete more effectively with MVPDs and digital competitors.”

While the merger and the FCC’s media ownership review are separate proceedings, the former helps illustrate some of the potential impacts of a change in the rules. On one hand, advocacy organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge say that media consolidation results in the concentration of editorial control in the hands of a few wealthy corporations, diminishing possibilities for free speech and minimizing platforms for the expression of diverse voices. Another argument being advanced by groups like the American Television Alliance is that changes in ownership thresholds negatively impacts retransmission consent agreements, potentially placing further unfair bargaining power in the hands of broadcasters, resulting in increases to cable subscription fees and subjecting consumers to the possibility of channel blackouts should broadcasters and cable companies fail to timely reach agreement on retransmission.

The coming months could bring dramatic changes to our current media landscape, but time will tell what this Commission has in store for the future of media ownership.

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