FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler May Tighten Media Ownership Rules

Expect strong opposition from TV broadcasters and newspapers

The FCC could be close to a long overdue review of media ownership rules come March, and there’s bad news for media owners: Early indications are that the new chairman Tom Wheeler is likely to propose tightening them.

Backed by his fellow Democrats, Wheeler isn’t expected to loosen the rules but rather firm them up even more, which will no doubt bring strong opposition from TV broadcasters and newspapers, and will split any vote along party lines.

First, Wheeler is expected to bend to public interest groups and make joint sales agreements between TV stations count as owned under current ownership rules. Stations that find themselves over the ownership limits would have 18 months to two years to unwind these agreements. There are JSAs in more than 100 mostly smaller markets.

Broadcasters, who have all but given up trying to convince the FCC to loosen the long-standing limits on how many stations can be owned in a single market, are likely to appeal the JSA change, especially since the FCC has allowed them for 20 years.

Newspapers also shouldn’t expect relief. They were hoping for cross-ownership rules to be loosened to allow TV or radio stations to purchase them. Wheeler has already signaled he wasn’t a big fan of his predecessor Julius Genachowski’s proposal to loosen that part of media ownership.

And if past is prologue, the rules could once again end up in court—as they have for the past decade.