NAB CEO: Expect Court Challenge to FCC’s New Broadcast Ownership Rules

Jan 05, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 5, 2024 – Expect TV stations to take the Federal Communications Commission to court over new broadcast ownership rules produced by the agency last week.

“We are certainly examining our legal options, as are individual companies throughout the broadcast industry. But I would expect that there will be legal challenges brought to this order,” NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said.

LeGeyt's comments came during a wide-ranging recorded video interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp posted today. Throughout the discussion, LeGeyt stressed that TV stations needed to find scale to compete in markets dominated by Big Tech.

The FCC not only reaffirmed several legacy ownership rules but also tightened others related to control over Big Four programming in a single market – a change sought by cable TV and satellite TV operators.

“…Suffice it to say, we are very, very disappointed, and I’m confident that there are policymakers in Washington, D.C., especially on Capitol Hill, who are going to be disappointed as well," LeGeyt added.

The FCC has taken criticism for clinging to rules that reflect market conditions that prevailed decades ago when newspapers, radio and TV played dominant roles.

“.. We are competing, both television and radio, in an environment where we’re competing for audience and advertising dollars with players all across the media landscape. Yet the FCC’s ownership rules are premised on the idea that broadcasters only compete against other broadcasters,” LeGeyt said.

LeGeyt specifically pointed to the competitive pressure coming from Big Tech in the battle over local advertising dollars.

“We know that the major tech players, Facebook and Google, have absolutely eaten up the marketplace for digital advertising. And we see that audiences are fleeing the traditional ecosystem,” LeGeyt said.

Under FCC rules, a TV station owner is permitted to own just one of the four highest-rated stations in a market. Those stations are typically the affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. TV station owners bypassed this restriction by adding network programming to multicast services and commonly owned low-power TV stations.

The FCC said these “loopholes” were no longer permissible, though the agency said it would grandfather current combinations not in compliance with the new rules. However, the FCC said “such grandfathered arrangements will not be transferable or assignable” without the agency’s approval.

“I think it is very, very difficult to justify how tightening the ownership rules is going to enable broadcasters to achieve the scale, to invest in the type of local journalism that our audiences have come to expect, as well as to innovate. So that’s really where we are focused right now, advocating for greater scale,” LeGeyt said.