Relaxing Future Digital Rules For Legacy TV Station Owners

How to help legacy TV stations -- perhaps those that might want to move more aggressively into the digital space?

Perhaps a relaxation of current TV regulations, which could spill over into new digital media spaces. Might that include the long-standing limit on the number of TV stations one company can own, capped at 39% maximum on the number of U.S. TV households?

In a recent filing, one FCC commissioner Brendan Carr seemed to suggest broadcast regulations should probably not apply to new over-the-top video and data businesses.

Some of this points to TV stations' move to more advanced TV platforms -- including slow-growing adaptation of the new ATSC 3.0 standard. It promises to put TV stations on the same level as digital media platforms in terms of proof-of-performance for advertisers, but with more scale.

Speaking at a recent online event, Carr called the new TV station digital business world the “broadcast internet,” one in which TV stations could benefit from IoT (The Internet of Things), telemedicine and other areas.



Carr’s concern: New TV stations business deals should “not be subject to dated rules designed to regulate television stations.” More broadly speaking, Carr says, in an FCC filing:  “What we’re talking about is an innovative technology that can bring new and creative services to market.”

Trouble is, TV stations have had a weak performance when it comes to digital extensions of their business -- not all TV stations groups have committed to capital expenditures to support those efforts. 

For example, digital media advertising on TV stations' websites has barely grown over the years -- totaling some $1 billion in 2019 -- this compared to $17 billion to $20 billion local TV stations pull in from traditional, linear advertising sales.

TV stations seems slow to move, in part because their revenue focus in recent years has been retransmission growth from pay TV providers and the every-other-year bump in ever-higher political advertising.

That said, many TV station groups have started local- and national-focused OTT advertising selling divisions: Tegna’s Premion, Cox Media Group’s Gamut, Sinclair’s CompulseOTT, and Nexstar’s Digital, which packages OTT, display on linear TV inventory.

Even though these businesses growing steadily, they are small potatoes -- few if any TV station groups break out much of this TV revenue. Over-the-top continues to be under-the-radar.

So when -- perhaps not that long from now -- will TV stations have something to talk about, in the digital sense? Will that come with relaxed regulation or some scale when ATSC 3.0 really gets going?

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