FCC proposes online public files for television stations


Paper files stored in a musty dusty back room in at a television station’s business office may soon be a thing of the past. The FCC wants only a third of what is currently in the file, but it wants it online – and posted on the FCC’s own website. Oh, and although it’s cutting some of the information out of the file, it does want to collect info in two new categories.

The item was agreed to in its entirety by the three Democrats on the Commission, including Chairman Julius Genachowski, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn. Republican Robert McDowell concurred in part – he had no problem with vacating the 2007 effort which he voted against – and disagreed in part.

The proceeding could have built on or amended its predecessor, which was introduced in 2007. However, the Commission has chosen to vacate that proceeding and all related submissions in its entirety and simply start over.

Media Bureau Chief William Lake said that the overarching goal was to make the information provided by television broadcasters pertaining to their responsibility to serve the public interest more accessible, while simultaneously making compliance less burdensome.

Copps was supportive of the plank, but thought starting over might not be the most efficient way to proceed, and said that it didn’t go far enough. He particularly wants information to be posted about the sponsors behind political advertising, which he contends is supported by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
McDowell was glad to see the demise of the 2007 order, and is supportive of replacing paper with digital files and putting the storage burden on the Commission rather than on broadcasters. However, he felt that the added reporting requirements may be burdensome, and constitutionally suspect.

Clyburn noted that TV is the nation’s leading source of news and information and that 78% of Americans are online on at least an occasional basis, and was thoroughly behind the new initiative. She called for expeditious action to put the proposal into effect as soon as possible.

Genachowski called the initiative just one more in the FCC’s ongoing effort to replace paper with digital. He said this effort will allow the public to see which broadcasters are doing a great job of serving the public interest and which are not, and added that another proceeding to move the enhanced disclosure initiative forward will be on the agenda soon.

RBR-TVBR observation: It makes sense to save who knows how many trees and put this stuff online, and the FCC’s decision to house the information on its own dime has to be good news for broadcasters. You have to think radio will be headed down this road as well, but it also makes sense to work out the bugs using the much smaller television universe than the radio universe, which is roughly six times larger.

We don’t see a particular clerical problem with posting information on SSAs – they are usually a matter of contract, so it should be readily available. Whether stations want to share that information is another matter entirely. We can imagine that broadcasters competing with a TV SSA combination might have more interest in access to SSA details – which should make for a very interesting regulatory debate.

The sponsorship issue may be incredibly burdensome, no matter who is storing the information. We suspect this will be the hottest of hot spots as this proceeding moves forward.