News Ticker

Senate bill introduced to grandfather TV station joint sales agreements

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill Monday that would grandfather current joint sales agreements between TV stations, overturning an FCC rule that makes it harder for a TV station to sell advertising for another in the same market.

The FCC’s rule, passed in March last year in a party line vote, disallowed any TV joint sales agreements where the station sold more than 15 percent of the advertising time on a competing station.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Tim Scott (R-N.C.).

“Joint sales agreements in Missouri and across the country have helped save TV stations from going dark, increased program diversity, and enabled local news programming for many TV broadcasters,” Blunt said in a statement. “For instance, a JSA enabled a Joplin, Missouri station to upgrade its Doppler radar system, which helped save lives during the devastating tornado of 2011.”

The FCC has approved more than 50 such agreements, but decided to change its rules in March. In the FCC ruled stations had two years to unwind any joint sales agreements that exceed the newly imposed limits.  The STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014  delayed the FCC’s amendments to joint sales agreement (JSA) rules, giving  JSA parties an additional six months to comply with the amended rules.

The National Association filed a lawsuit against the FCC’s rule last May. Nexstar Broadcasting and Howard Stirk Holdings also filed a lawsuit.

“It is sheer folly for the FCC to ban two TV stations in cities as small as Wichita from sharing services that can help preserve and enhance localism,” said the NAB in a statement. “Broadcasters look forward to working closely with these congressional leaders to advance legislation that will help free and local broadcasters remain competitive.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has defended the rule, arguing they were an end-run around media ownership rules and hurt smaller companies trying to enter the business.

The FCC declined comment.

The rule has already led to stations having to go off the air, said GOP commissioner Ajit Pai who opposed the rule. “And that disturbing trend will only accelerate if scores of existing JSAs are terminated next year. For the sake of television viewers across the country, I agree with Sens. Blunt, Mikulski, Schumer and Scott that we should not let that happen.”