How the Government Shutdown Is Affecting Entertainment (Updated)

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The FCC’s webpage went dark on Tuesday, film permitting by
the National Park Service was on hold and hearings on Capitol Hill
were either postponed or cancelled on the first day of the
government shutdown, as there appeared to be little movement in a
Congressional standoff over legislation to fund much of federal
operations. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers faced
furloughs, with many reporting to duty on Tuesday only to carry out
plans to wind down operations in the span of four hours. The most
significant impact for the entertainment sector was with the
closure of almost all of the operations of the FCC, including
regulatory oversight, licensing services, spectrum management,
consumer complaint and inquiry phone lines, and local competition
enforcement. The shutdown means that all pending mergers and
transactions that require FCC approval are put on hold, said a
spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters. Among them are
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plans to buy seven Allbritton
Communications stations, and the Tribune Co.’s plans to buy 17
stations from Local TV Holdings. Also stopped is any action on the
agency’s work on designing an “incentive auction” of broadcast
spectrum, the details of which are a current contentious issue
between stations and federal regulators. As at other agencies, only
FCC staff necessary for emergency services or the protection of
life and property will remain working. The agency said that would
be up to 38 employees out of 1,754. Another six, including
chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and
Commissioner Ajit Pai, will remain working because their
compensation doesn’t come from the agency’s annual appropriation. A
spokeswoman for the MPAA said that some of the issues that could
affect production were the issuance of film permits by the National
Park Service on park property. FilmLA, the permit agency for Los Angeles County, said that federal properties including the Los Angeles River, the Angeles National Forest, the VA Medical Center and the Sepulveda Dam were off limits to location shooting. A shutdown also could delay visa
processing — of concern to studios drawing creative talent from
overseas — although many passport offices remained open. Also
shut down were the National Endowment for the Arts and the National
Endowment for the Humanities, with a long shutdown posing problems
for arts organizations and other creative types seeking grants from
the orgs. On Capitol Hill, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee
on allocation of spectrum, with a Comcast executive among those
testifying, was postponed. Also in doubt is the fate of a scheduled
Senate Commerce Committee vote on Thursday for the nomination of
Michael P. O’Rielly to fill a vacancy on the FCC. The Patent
& Trademark Office remained open with operational funds
from reserve fee collections, but those will dwindle after four
weeks. The U.S. Copyright Office only was offering support to
Congress on policy and legislative matters that are needed, but an
online registration portal was still be available so filers can
secure the earliest possible effective date of registration on
claims filed. The rest of the website was shut down. The National
Assn. of Theater Owners, which has a general membership and board
of directors meeting in Washington this week, had scheduled Tuesday
for the day that theater owners lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill
about a host of issues. A spokesman for the org said that some
meetings were still taking place, while others were cancelled.
Among the topics of concern are the provision of the healthcare
reform act that sets the threshold for full-time workers at 30
hours per week, not 40, meaning that theater companies face
penalties if they do not offer these workers coverage. NATO says
that it could limit their ability to hire young and elderly workers
“seeking to supplement their income.” Other types of lobbying was
continuing, just away from Capitol Hill. “It will be different, but
we’ll still be open,” a rep for one lobbying org predicted on
Monday. Also continuing, unabated, was the pace of litigation, as
federal courts remained open at least through Oct. 15. If a
shutdown lasts until then, the situation will be reassessed. In
D.C. itself, the impact was felt most prominently through the
closure of highly trafficked government buildings and the
Smithsonian. The Kennedy Center is closed for tours, but its
performances will continue, as they are funded largely by private
donations. “Million Dollar Quartet” is scheduled for Tuesday night.
On Tuesday evening, AMC Theatres announced that it would give free
popcorn to any federal employee impacted by the shutdown, on the
pretty reasonable assumption that some if not many furloughed
workers will head to the movies.