FCC Finsyn Scale Tips Network’s Way

Don’t place your bets yet, but the networks seem to have the upper hand in the latest round of the financial interest and syndication rules negotiations.

Not only did FCC commissioner and swing vote Andrew Barrett reject Hollywood’s finsyn proposal, but a Federal Communications Commission staff plan made public last week recommended that restrictions placed on the tv networks would be phased out after three years.

The plan would allow the nets to invest in and receive syndication revenues from up to 25% of their primetime lineup in the first year after adoption of the regs, followed by finsyn rights to 50% of the primetime sked the second year and 75% in the third.

Rules then would be lifted in their entirety, per FCC sources. Networks currently are barred from investing in all non-net produced programming or in profiting from the syndication of such shows.

The “25-50-75” plan is thought to represent a wish list of FCC chairman Al Sikes and commissioner James Quello, the two FCC members regarded more “pronet” than commissioners Sherrie Marshall and Ervin Duggan.

Hollywood, not surprisingly, is up in arms. The plan immediately was criticized by Diane Killory, a lawyer for the D.C.-based Coalition to Preserve Finsyn, who represents Hollywood’s interests. Killory said the plan was “completely lacking” and “legally shaky.” She added that the coalition is likely to challenge the regs in court if they’re adopted.

In an attempt to clarify the status of the Fox Broadcasting Co. – winding down on its one-year finsyn waiver – the FCC staff also recommends a new definition of a tv “network.”

Under existing lingo, finsyn restrictions kick in when a web reaches a combined 15 hours of programming per week. Under the proposed definition, finsyn mandates would be triggered only for companies that air 14 hours of primetime programming a week and have at least 100 stations.

The staff plan would give Fox – now programming 12 hours of its primetime lineup for 134 affiliate stations – continued finsyn leeway. Fox’ choice would be whether to bump up against the finsyn rules, or to build only its non-primetime fare until the regs expire after three years.

Meanwhile, Barrett last week turned thumbs-down on commissioner Marhsall’s “two-step” plan that would have allowed webs to negotiate a financial interest in independently produced programming, but only after a show was placed on the network schedule. Marshall, Hollywood’s strongest advocate, reportedly is mustering a new proposal in hopes of lining up the support of Barrett and Duggan.

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