NAB: FCC Needs To Let Top TV Stations Combine

Dec 05, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2023 – The National Association of Broadcasters continues to press for TV station ownership deregulation, saying a federal rule that bars the common ownership of some of the most successful TV stations in a market needs to go.

NAB lawyers made their latest appeal for a market-driven ownership approach in a Nov. 30 meeting with an aide to Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. A federal appeals court has ordered the FCC to finish its TV station ownership review by Dec. 27.

In a lengthy Dec. 1 letter documenting their FCC session, NAB lawyers said ownership restrictions in place for decades “cannot be justified in today’s competitive video and advertising markets and that the FCC’s past rationales for its top-4 rule do not withstand scrutiny.” NAB also had strong words for several pay-TV industry participants who oppose ownership consolidation among TV stations locally.

The FCC’s top-four rule will not permit a single entity to own more than one of the four highest-rated TV stations in a market. In 2017, the FCC said it would consider waivers if an applicant can show that “a top-four combination would nonetheless serve the public interest despite the prohibition.”

Although the intent of the rule is to preserve ownership diversity, some TV station owners have entered Shared Services Agreements that some consider top-four combinations in every respect except for a formal license transfer.

NAB stressed that deregulation was especially urgent in small markets across the country.

“The top-4 rule is the most restrictive in smaller markets because it forbids any efficient station combinations in markets with four or fewer TV stations and greatly restricts broadcasters from gaining economies of scale in markets with only five or six stations,” NAB’s letter said.

Some within the pay-TV sector fear that a consolidated broadcast TV industry will cause the carriage fees they pay broadcasters to rise and will embolden TV station owners to rely more on signal blackouts than fair bargaining to obtain rate increases. 

According to S&P Global, TV station owners raked in $14.46 billion in 2022 retransmission consent fees.

On its website, NAB describes itself “as the premier trade association for broadcasters” charged with advancing the interests of its members before federal government.