NAB to FCC: Relax Radio Ownership Limits
In 2012, when
traditional radio is competing for audience and advertising against Internet
audio services, satellite radio and audio programming delivered on a plethora
of mobile devices, the National Association of Broadcasters says it’s long overdue
for the FCC to relax the local radio ownership rules, something Clear Channel
and CBS advocate as well.
groups disagree, saying the commission should leave the limits in place
or further tighten them.
When Congress passed
the Telecommunications Act that contained radio’s new ownership limits in 1996, none of these new competitors existed, argues NAB, which says the local radio
ownership caps and AM/FM subcaps have got to go.
In comments filed
with the commission for its media ownership proceeding, NAB says the current
caps, tiered by market size, as well as the AM/FM subcaps that limit
how many stations of one service a group can own in a market can no longer be
justified and no longer serve the agency’s diversity policy goals.
In markets with 45
or more stations, the existing rules limit a single entity to owning up to
eight commercial stations, but no more than five can be in the same service (AM
Radio stations now
compete for audience share and advertising revenues not only against other
stations but also with programming delivered by Internet radio, satellite
radio and on various mobile devices. At the least, the FCC should enlarge its
definition of a local market to include these new voices, NAB states.
To say that the
local radio ownership caps remain necessary “to promote competition in these
market circumstances simply makes no sense,” argued CBS, which adds: “By
maintaining outmoded restrictions on the number of over-the-air stations that
can be owned in a local market, the commission’s current regulatory regime also
singles out radio alone for regulation.”
The FCC has not
proposed changing the local radio ownership limits.
The commission did
conclude in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that the AM/FM subcaps are still
necessary to protect competition in local radio markets because of technical
and marketplace differences between AM and FM stations, apparently assuming
that AM stations are not competitive, NAB wrote.
lobbying organization says this assumption isn’t valid and quotes BIA figures
cited by Clear Channel in its filing on the topic. “Not only are five AM
stations ranked in the top 10 radio stations in the country by revenue, but 187
AM stations are ranked in the top five radio stations in their local markets in
terms of audience share across the day,” writes NAB. Recent FCC rule changes
allowing AMs to rebroadcast on FM translators, and the growth of digital audio
broadcasting, HD Radio technology and online streaming all provide new
opportunities for AMs to compensate for technical difficulties relative to FM
stations and enhance their already strong presence in the audio marketplace, NAB asserts.
Elimination of the
AM/FM subcaps would provide increased flexibility to owners without increasing
the number of stations that a single entity could own in any local market, said NAB.
newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership limits should be eliminated, because “the
assumed harms from common ownership of newspaper and broadcast facilities
cannot be proven,” writes NAB, which also agrees with the FCC’s proposal to
eliminate the radio/TV cross-ownership rule and help level the playing field for
local broadcasters and multichannel video and audio distributors.
Groups such as Free
Press, the Alliance for Women in Media and musicFirst urged the commission to
refrain from further deregulating broadcasters, saying that while the FCC has
proposed relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule and eliminating
the radio-television cross ownership rule, the agency has not assessed the
impact such changes would have on levels of female and minority station
As for the radio
ownership limits specifically, musicFirst argues the FCC should tighten the
limits, “to reverse the rampant homogenization and impoverishment of radio
programming in recent decades.”