NAB study warns about impact of TV incentive auctions


The FCC’s plan to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum out of the television band to use for broadband involves voluntary spectrum auctions, but according to a National Association of Broadcasters study, if it’s going to work, a significant number of broadcasters are going to have to either share spectrum or go away.

The FCC, which already herded television stations away from Channels 52-69, now would like to do the same for Channels 31-51.

According to the NAB, that would chase 672 full power stations, 209 Class A stations and 3,214 LPTV/translators down to a lower channel position.

256 of them are full power affiliates of major networks, with each required to move anywhere from 24% to 35% of its affiliates/O&Os. PBS has 106 stations in the targeted channel band. Other networks take big percentage hits – 53% of CW is affected, 66% of MyNetworkTV, 70% of ION, and 73% of Telemundo. Just over half of independent full powers would be required to move.

According to the NAB study, taking the extra restrictions on relocation pertaining to stations near the Canadian or Mexican border, there will simply be no place to go for 210 full power stations in a 120 MHz reallocation, and 391 Class As would face a similar fate. 86 DMAs would be affected.

Naturally, the hit will also hit large DMAs hard – New York has 16 stations at risk, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Detroit have 14 on the line, and nine are at risk in Boston and Washington.

The displacement problems can be greatly mitigated if the FCC shrinks the size of its spectrum reallocation. If it lowers its target from 120 MHz to 84 MHz, for example, only about half of the at-risk full power TV allocations remain at risk, dropping the number needed to exit the airwaves to 108. A 30 MHz grab requires the loss of only 54 full power stations and 102 Class As.

Finally, the recent Congressional Budget Office scorecard on S.911, the Rockefeller-Hutchison spectrum bill, says that it believes $1B of the proceeds will go to compensating broadcasters forced to move.

The NAB study disputes this conclusion. It says a small move, such as going from Channel 31 to 29, might be done for just $300K. But the vast majority of moves will be much more involved. If everything can be done on the cheap side, broadcasters are looking at a bill of about $1.35M. But the price could be anywhere from that minimum to an everything-is-as-difficult-as-possible total cost of about $3.9M. It estimates that rather than a $1B total relocation expense, Congress needs to budget something more along the lines of $2.5B.

The FCC made a copy of the NAB study available late last week. NAB plans a 7/25/11 press conference to discuss the study.