×

FCC Eliminates Rule That Required Stations to Have a Main Studio in Local Coverage Area

WASHINGTON — The FCC on Tuesday voted to eliminate a rule that required broadcast station groups to maintain a physical presence in the community of their primary local coverage area, a move that critics say will help media companies further consolidate their operations and even be a boost to the ambitions of Sinclair Broadcast Group.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the elimination of the rule has been a long time coming and will produce cost savings for stations.

He said the “overwhelming majority” of public input favored the elimination of the rule, citing the support for such an action even from National Public Radio.

“Continuing to require a main studio would detract from, rather than promote, a broadcaster’s ability and incentive to keep people informed and serve the public interest,” Pai said.

The National Association of Broadcasters supports the rule’s elimination, and has argued that it will free up funds for stations to spend on staff and programming.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the elimination reflects how the public currently interacts with local businesses — not by visiting their facilities, but through telecommunications and social media.

“Market incentives and license obligations” will ensure that broadcasters continue to serve their local audiences, he said, and that “it could even pave the way for more local content” and even expand coverage in rural areas. Commissioner Brendan Carr said smaller stations could save substantial sums that will allow them to hire other personnel, including those in news gathering.

The rule dates to 1940. The two Democrats on the commission opposed the change.

“There are many broadcasters who do an extraordinary job serving communities during disaster,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “But let’s be honest — they can only do so when they have a real presence in their area of license. That’s not a retrograde notion — it’s a fact.”

She said when broadcasters have a physical presence they are “much less likely” to lose touch with their local community concerns, citing examples of radio stations that have continued with music programming and have ignored or even been oblivious to natural disasters occurring in their coverage area.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the move sends a signal that the FCC “no longer believes” that “those awarded a license to use the public airwaves should have a local presence in their community.”

Critics have characterized the elimination of the rule as benefitting major media companies, and warn that it will come at the expense of localism. Chris Ruddy, the CEO of conservative outlet Newsmax, met with Rosenworcel earlier this month and expressed concerns that “the elimination of the main studio rule had also been an agenda item of Sinclair’s, which has sought to dramatically reduce their programming costs,” according to an FCC filing. He warned that it would lead to more centralization of news operations in major markets.

Ruddy has been among the most visible critics from the right of Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media. It would create a broadcasting giant with 223 TV stations serving 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50, and to cover about 72% of U.S. households. He has also objected to an FCC action earlier this year that relaxed media ownership restrictions by giving major station groups a “discount” on how the agency calculates the reach of their UHF station holdings.

Stations will still be required to maintain a toll-free local number so consumers can still contact the outlet.

More Biz

  • Netflix Reed Hastings

    Netflix Shares Dive After Q2 Stumble: Just a Hiccup or Sign of Bigger Trouble?

    Netflix badly undershot its subscriber forecasts for the second quarter of 2019 — posting its first net U.S. customer decline since 2011 while growth slowed considerably overseas. The company added 2.7 million subs worldwide, almost half as many as the 5 million it had projected. With the big miss, Netflix shares took a predictable hit, [...]

  • Photo taken July 18, 2019, from

    At Least 33 Believed Dead in Arson Attack on Japan's Kyoto Animation

    UPDATED: At least 33 people are believed to have died Thursday in an arson attack on the Kyoto Animation company in Japan, shocking a nation in which extreme violence is very rare. Citing fire officials, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Thursday night that 20 women and 12 men were killed in the blaze, as well [...]

  • Haim Saban

    Haim Saban Pledges to Invest $500 Million to Launch Music Label

    Businessman, investor and philanthropist Haim Saban, who heads the Saban Capital Group, has pledged to invest $500 million to launch a record label. Saban Music Group (SMG) will be led by music executive Gustavo Lopez and focus on “international A&R, artist development and strategically supporting a 360 model for artists,” reads a release announcing SMG, [...]

  • Street scene Sunset Boulevard at night

    In Los Angeles, Rock and Roll Fights to Save the Sunset Strip

    On a recent Saturday evening on Sunset Boulevard, just beyond the nightly caravan of European sports cars and open-air tour buses that have seen better days, the famous Tower Records building was once again bathed in the familiar red and yellow paint job of the iconic music store that once occupied its stone-brick walls. Though [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Files Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit From Artists Claiming Fire Damage

    Universal Music Group filed a motion on Wednesday to dismiss a class-action lawsuit from attorneys representing Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of Tupac and Tom Petty over master recordings reportedly destroyed in a 2008 fire, the extent of which was revealed last month in a New York Times article. UMG argues that the musicians cannot pursue a [...]

  • After Yet Another Rejection, What Could

    After Yet Another Rejection, What Could Be Next for Woodstock 50?

    In the wake of the Town of Vernon’s third rejection of Woodstock 50’s permit application to hold its music festival at a venue in the Upstate New York municipality, one may well wonder what the troubled event’s next move might be. In the hours after the latest rejection was announced, even the optimistic-bordering-on-unrealistic producers sounded [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Sexual Assault Case Dropped in Nantucket

    Nantucket prosecutors have dropped a sexual assault case against actor Kevin Spacey, citing the “unavailability” of the complaining witness. Spacey had been accused of groping an 18-year-old busboy at the Club Car restaurant in July 2016. He was charged with indecent sexual assault, and a trial was set to be held in the fall. However, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content