PTAR war of words expected

The FCC today is expected to seek comment on whether changes are needed in the primetime access rule, a move likely to touch off a major entertainment-industry lobbying battle.

PTAR is the 20-year-old rule that requires network affiliates in the top-50 markets to set aside an hour of primetime — usually the 7-8 p.m. slot — for non-network programming.

The reg has the strong support of independent broadcasters, successful firstrun syndicators such as Paramount, and King World, the distributor of access heavyweights “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

PTAR’s detractors include the Walt Disney Co., which has lobbied for relaxing the rule to allowoff-network reruns to appear in access in the largest markets, and CBS and NBC, which support the Disney position.

ABC’s stance is less clear due to its close ties with King World.

Driven by petition

Possible Federal Communications Commission action on PTAR is being driven by a 4-year-old petition filed by First Media Corp., the owner of a CBS affiliate in Orlando. The company urged the agency to eliminate the rule on grounds that it is no longer necessary, given the explosion in cable TV and other media.

For years, First Media’s request met with stony silence from the FCC. Last month, however, First Media complained to a federal appeals court in D.C. about the FCC’s lack of action.

That prompted the appellate court to order the FCC to decide its course of action on PTAR by today.

An FCC source said today’s notice is likely to be couched in neutral language and will not carry specific recommendations on whether the rule should be modified.

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