Grants waivers to Tribune, Clear Channel sale

The Federal Communications Commission ended an already busy week with a quadruple play — approving the $1.3 billion Clear Channel sale, planning to take a look at product integration, granting Tribune its needed waivers and taking another shot at cable.

Earlier last week, FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin presided over a long-delayed and at times bitterly acrimonious commission meeting that forced him to back away from plans to invoke new regulations on cable television.

But late Thursday, Martin managed to secure supporting votes from Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to impose a 30% cap on the number of subscribers a cabler can serve nationwide. No cabler currently serves 30% or more subscribers in the country, though Comcast is close with about 27%.

The cable industry, which led a successful lobbying campaign against Martin’s efforts to invoke new regs, is expected to challenge the cap, which is not likely to be made official until the commission’s next meeting on Dec. 18.

Also tentatively skedded for that meeting is an item the commission added late last week and that could lead to an FCC investigation into product integration, which has been a growing sore point between talent and producers. Writers, actors and directors have been complaining that they or their material are increasingly used in movies and TV shows as vehicles for commercial products without adequate disclosure that the manufacturer has paid a fee for the service.

The agenda for FCC meetings is released usually one week ahead of time, but it is common for items that appear on the agenda to be removed at the last minute.

Also late Thursday, the commission okayed Clear Channel’s planned sale of 35 TV stations to Newport Television. Regulators imposed conditions on the sale, which will put Newport in violation of FCC ownership rules in nine markets and thus require the divestiture of several stations.

The market areas include Bakersfield, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Fresno and Monterey in California; Salt Lake City; Albany, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and San Antonio, Texas.

The companies asked the FCC for waivers to operate the stations for six months until it comes into compliance with the rules. The FCC granted waivers in eight of the nine markets, denying the request for Albany.

On Friday, the commission, as expected, granted temporary waivers for Tribune regarding its cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets in four markets (New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Hartford, Conn.). Tribune also has cross-ownership in Chicago, but since those properties were acquired prior to the cross-ownership ban in 1975, the FCC issued a permanent waiver for the Chicago market.

The waivers will allow the planned Tribune sale to real estate magnate Sam Zell to go through before the end of the year.

Also Friday, the White House announced it will renominate Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to serve another term at the FCC. The Senate is likely to confirm the renomination.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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