Cross-Ownership Study: Impact on Minority/Female Ownership 'Probably Negligible'

MMTC, BIA/Kelsey Study is Based on 14 Responses Representing 31 Stations
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"It appears from this study that cross-media interests' impact on minority and women broadcast ownership is not sufficiently material to be a material justification for tightening or retaining the [cross-ownership] rules."

That was the conclusion of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and BIA/Kelsey study submitted to acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and the other FCC commissioners Thursday morning, according to a copy of the study made available to Multichannel News. Clyburn was instrumental in getting the FCC to agree to further explore the impact of its rules on diverse populations. Clyburn praised the proposed study when MMTC offered it up, saying it "could shed greater light on any potential harms that may result from increased media consolidation."

"The results of this study, while not dispositive, do provide evidence that the impact of cross-media ownership on minority and women broadcast ownership is probably negligible," said BIA/Kelsey.

One reason they were not dispositive was that the survey was based on only 14 respondents (representing 31 stations) in markets with grandfathered cross-ownership combos and with stations owned by minorities and/or women. BIA/Kelsey conceded more responses would have been preferable, but argued that it was never meant to be a comprehensive, random sample survey of all cross-media combos in markets with minority and women owners. It said the answers it did get were "sufficiently compelling and unambiguous" to support its conclusion of, essentially, no harm, no foul.

But there were caveats.

MMTC president David Honig pointed out in a letter to the FCC that there was one market in which all the respondents mentioned cross-media interests as having a competitive impact. That came in a medium-sized market with a combination of the only daily newspaper, a full-power TV station and radio stations.

"We interpret this finding as an indication that an especially extensive cross-media combination, although lawful under the rules, could materially inhibit 'singleton station' operations in the advertising marketplace," he said. "Inasmuch as minority owned stations are more likely than others to be singleton stations, we recommend that the Commission be alert to the possibility that a cross-media combination, with strong newspaper, television and radio outlets in a medium (or small) market, can have sufficient market power to operate as a material detriment to minority and women ownership."

A second caveat was that the study only looked at the impact of cross-ownership on diverse ownership.

So, "there may be sound justifications relating to overall viewpoint diversity, localism, or competition for why the cross-ownership rules should or should not be changed," said Honig. He also said that if the FCC did want to use the study to render a decision on the rules, it should put the results out for public comment.

It remains to be seen -- though probably only until those groups can respond to the release of the study Thursday -- whether it will satisfy consolidation critics like Free Press, which has already complained that "a study endorsed by the broadcast and newspaper lobbies, and carried out by an analyst who has on several occasions expressed support for weakening the very rules he seeks now to evaluate, cannot be substituted for independent research and agency action."

On Feb. 26, then-chairman Julius Genachowski agreed to hold up on a vote on his proposed media ownership revisions -- tweaking the ban on radio/newspaper cross-ownership to allow for at least the greater possibility of TV/newspaper cross-ownerships in larger markets and lifting the radio/newspaper cross-ownership ban -- until the MMTC and BIA/Kelsey study was complete.

That was after minority groups and others complained that the FCC had not gauged the impact of its proposed loosening of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules.

The FCC is already years behind on its 2010 quadrennial media ownership rule review, thanks in part to court challenges that tied up a previous, similar, rule change proposal by then Republican chairman Kevin Martin.