Pro-MVPD Lobbying Group Cheers Proposed Gray Fine

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It’s repeatedly put the blame on nearly every retransmission consent impasse, leading to a “blackout” of local TV stations, on the station owner.


It’s unabashedly in support of anything that favors a MVPD.

Now, the American Television Alliance (ATVA) has commented on a half-million-dollar-plus Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture handed to Gray Television by the FCC for allegedly violating the Commission’s Top Four station rule.

To little surprise, the ATVA applauds the FCC for proposing the fine.

As RBR+TVBR first reported on July 7, the FCC is proposing the statutory maximum for a single broadcaster violation — $518,283 — for apparently violating the commission’s local ownership rules.

The penalty is being assessed in response to Gray’s July 2020 of the intellectual property of the CBS television network from KTVA-11 in Anchorage. KTVA is presently dark and its licensee, GCI subsidiary Denali Media Holdings, has put the property up for sale.

Once the deal closed, KTVA’s programming — without any changes — moved to the former KYES-5. This, the FCC argues, put Gray in violation of the Top Four rule. While KYES was a brand-new TV station and its prior programming ranked outside of the Top Four, KTVA was the No. 2 station behind Gray’s top-rated KTUU-2, the NBC affiliate serving Anchorage.

Gray on March 3, 2021, moved CBS programming to K22HN-D, a low power TV station in Anchorage it owns; it is now KYES-LD. A simulcast is now on a digital subchannel of KTUU-2, while KAUU is now a news-focused non-affiliated station. However, for some seven months, the FCC says this put Gray in violation of its rules.

That’s a conclusion the ATVA agrees with, with spokesperson Jessica Kendust asserting that Gray’s “manipulation” of local ownership rules “was an egregious ‘evasion’ that warrants this fine.”

Kendust added that the ATVA hopes the action “is only the beginning of a much closer look at these issues – including consideration of closing all of the other loopholes that broadcasters use to evade the rules.”

Those “loopholes” involve the use of low-power TV stations to create a market monopoly or outright dominant position. Under current Commission rules, LPTVs and Class A TV stations do not count toward local market concentration. As such, the use of KYES-LD is perfectly fine.

The ATVA suggests the Commission rethink this.

“Gray’s attempt to cure its violation in Anchorage by then moving the CBS programming from its full power station to the low power station and another feed on its NBC station is just another workaround broadcasters employ to exploit the system,” the ATVA’s Kendust argued. “We urge the FCC to close these additional loopholes.”

That may not be so easy. Under Democratic leadership, the Commission may be willing to address its LPTV attribution policies. However, given the Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision allowing the FCC to “modernize” its rules by further weakening its ownership restrictions, the end of the Top Four rule altogether could eventually come to the Commission.

What’s not up for discussion in the matter concerning KTVA-11’s programming shift to KYES-5 is the “failing” station waiver. Such a waiver is taken into consideration by the Commission in cases where audience share and financial performance are both struggling. As KTVA was No. 2 at the time KYES took on its program schedule, there is no case for a “failing” station transaction to be made.

 

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