Thursday, June 14, 2018

FCC May Vote Next Month On National Audience Caps

The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman is said to be planning a vote next month on limits to how many TV stations a company can own, rules he has said are too restrictive and that could factor into Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s planned purchase of Tribune Media Co.

According to Bloomberg, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is poised to schedule a July 12 vote on altering rules that cap broadcasters’ reach at 39 percent of the national audience, according to two people briefed on the plan, who who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal hasn’t been made public.

A vote next month could head off a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington that is considering a challenge to part of the existing rules. The case threatens to push Sinclair over the existing national ownership cap if it buys Tribune.

Proposals from Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, are all but certain to pass with votes from the Republican majority he leads. Pai hasn’t publicly recommended a new limit and details of his proposal could not be learned.

Sinclair told the FCC its proposal to buy Tribune’s 42 stations and sell others would leave it reaching almost 59 percent of the national audience. That share shrinks to less than 38 percent when counting just half the audience for some stations, as the FCC now allows, using a counting methodology that is under court challenge, Sinclair said in a filing.

The acquisition would leave Sinclair with more than 200 stations and give the Maryland-based broadcaster known for its conservative views a national presence, with stations in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

The agency in December asked whether to retain or change the national limit, and the discounted audience-counting, without saying how it wanted to rule. Pai, a skeptic of media ownership rules, has long called for raising the national cap, for instance in 2013 saying that step is “long overdue.” The agenda for the July 12 meeting is to be made public on June 21, and Pai’s under no obligation to include the national cap.

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