Watchdog praises possible demise of UHF discount


Watchdog3The FCC is moving ahead with an NPRM to eliminate the policy under which UHF television stations count less than VHF stations when calculating compliance with national television ownership caps. Free Press is happy about that, but wishes grandfather wasn’t going to be tagging along with any change.

The FCC calculates nation ownership compliance by totaling the potential audience of each local television station within a group. A VHF station carries the weight of the entire local TV household total in a given DMA, while only 50% is charged to a UHF station.

Free Press restated what everybody concedes: While the UHF discount made sense many years ago, the advent of updated technologies, in particular the switch to digital broadcast, has not only resolved the inequality between  VHF and UHF, and indeed if anything has shifted the advantage to the UHF side.

Free Press’s Matt Wood said broadcaster have nothing to complain about. “Broadcasters have known for the last nine years that the discount was under review. The rule lost its technical justification long ago and became nothing more than a gift for large conglomerates.”

He said he wished the policy came without a grandfather clause which has helped enable some broadcasters to amass large television groups, and added, “But the broadcasters cutting these deals had no right to expect the continuation of this outdated loophole. By eliminating it altogether, we can better promote ownership diversity and more efficient use of the public airwaves.

Wood concluded, “We congratulate Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn for moving this item forward. But we are disappointed that Commissioner Pai has sided with broadcasters in arguing against the congressionally mandated limit.”

RBR-TVBR observation: If the FCC decided not to employ a grandfather clause in this proceeding the resulting court battles would be furious and virtually impossible for the FCC to win. You can’t take a legally-assembled business and demolish it retroactively with a new regulation.