By Scott R. Flick
Partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Noncommercial stations caught a break Tuesday (12/20).
For many years, broadcast stations filed annual ownership reports on the anniversary date of their license renewal deadline.
Since those deadlines varied from state to state (and even between radio and TV in the same state), determining whether a station had filed its reports on time could be challenging.
That task was further complicated by the fact that a licensee owning stations in multiple states could elect to consolidate the filing of its ownership reports for all stations on the license renewal date for any one state in which it had a station.
The FCC concluded that the reports didn’t need to be filed annually, and made them biennial. The result was that it became even more difficult for the FCC to keep track of whether a station had filed on time. In fact, a licensee that had consolidated its ownership report filing date across multiple states might not even be filing in the same year as the FCC would normally expect.
Ultimately, the FCC gave up and decided to adopt a unified national deadline for commercial TV and radio stations in 2009. At the same time, it expanded the list of entities that were required to file the reports (previously, sole proprietorships, general partnerships composed only of individuals, and LPTV licensees were exempt). It set Nov. 1 of odd-numbered years as the consolidated filing deadline, and indicated that it planned to eventually adopt a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations as well.
However, the FCC quickly discovered that, given the increased complexity of the reports and the fact that the information reported in them was required to reflect a station’s ownership as of Oct. 1 of that same year, broadcasters were having trouble generating all of the required ownership reports in just 30 days.
The FCC also had some teething pains with the new electronic form, with the result that the Nov. 1, 2009 deadline ended up being extended multiple times, ultimately resulting in a deadline for the 2009 reports of July 8, 2010.
After that painful ordeal, the FCC in 2011 permanently moved the commercial station deadline to Dec. 1 of odd-numbered years, providing stations with a 61-day period to file the reports.
Perhaps because of how difficult and drawn-out the process of establishing a unified deadline for commercial stations had been, the FCC moved very slowly in establishing the promised unified deadline for noncommercial stations. It wasn’t until Jan. 8, 2016 that the FCC moved forward on that front, adopting an Order creating a new online form (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323-E) and establishing a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations to file it. Because the new form had to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (and that approval published in the Federal Register) before it could be used, it has still not gone into effect, meaning that throughout 2016, noncommercial stations have continued to file on a state-by-state basis using the old form.
It therefore seemed likely that a lot of noncommercial stations would end up filing two sets of ownership reports in 2017—one set on a station’s license renewal anniversary, and one set on the likely Dec. 1, 2017 unified filing date.
Thankfully, the FCC announced that it would not be burdening noncommercial stations with dual filings in 2017, releasing an Order suspending all 2017 biennial ownership reporting deadlines for noncommercial stations and announcing that 2017 will indeed be the year that noncommercial stations will finally have a common ownership reporting deadline.
That deadline will be Dec. 1 of odd-numbered years — the same as the deadline for commercial stations.
That’s good news for noncommercial stations in general, and particularly for those with limited resources to make such filings.
Consider it an early Christmas gift from the FCC.