With the clock ticking down on the renewal, or sunset, of the STELAR compulsory license, the National Association of Broadcasters bought a Facebook ad flight in key markets pushing for the license's expiration.
And while the ads have not been carrying a "political advertising" disclaimer, NAB said they would going forward.
"Tell Congress to end STELAR before more communities lose out on local stations," the ad advises Facebook users. "Keep your news local."
STELAR, key provisions of which sunset at the end of the year unless renewed by Congress, is the latest incarnation of a law that dates from 1988 and that established the compulsory license allowing satellite operators to import distant network TV station signals into local markets where viewers lack access to them for a variety of reasons.
STELAR comes up for renewal every five years. MVPDs support its renewal and using it to get retrans reforms like bans on blackouts and outside arbitration for impasses, while broadcasters, who argue the retrans system is working as advertised would like to see it sunset. The renewal has become an ongoing battle ground between broadcasters and cable operators over retrans. The law also requires broadcasters and cable operators to negotiate retrans "in good faith."
One thing that struck some on the other side of the STELAR issue as odd was that the NAB ads did not include Facebook's political icon. The ad is identified as sponsored by NAB, however, and includes a "learn more" button that leads to NAB's argument for why STELAR should expire.
But that icon is ostensibly to be on all Facebook ads that deal with "social issues, elections or politics." If that is the case, that ad is supposed to include a "paid for by" link to "info about the individual or organization paying for the ad" and the advertiser has to have completed an authorization process (part of Facebook's effort to weed out political ad meddling by foreign governments).
A check of Facebook's library of political ads found only one NAB entry, an ad from 2018 about helping veterans, which was cited in the library with the notation: "[T]his ad ran without a disclaimer."
Asked about the ad, NAB EVP Dennis Warton confirmed the buy.
"NAB hired a D.C.-based creative consulting firm to make a modest 'STELAR messaging' ad buy beginning on Sept. 24 in seven cities where AT&T/DirecTV has refused to fulfill its pledge to carry local TV programming," said Wharton.
"The Facebook ads have been running in 'neglected markets' in the states of Montana, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and Maine.
As to the absence of a disclaimer, Wharton said according to the firm--and Facebook's policy--"Facebook reviews all ads and notifies the advertiser if the messages need a 'political advertising' disclaimer." The firm said "no such notification from Facebook was given," Wharton told MCN.
But Wharton indicated that, in the interests of transparency, such notification would be forthcoming.
"Though the ads that previously ran on Facebook were not flagged with a political disclaimer, NAB's intent has always been to be completely transparent," he said. "Therefore, we will be making sure that going forward, these STELAR-related messages will be labeled with the political advertising disclaimer."
The American Television Alliance, comprising cable and satellite operators and others, called it a deceptive campaign that Congress should ignore.
“Broadcasters are already bilking viewers out of nearly $12 billion in overpriced retransmission fees and subjecting Americans to the worst TV blackout year in history," said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy. "They want Congress to pull the plug on 870,000 Americans in rural areas and kill FCC’s limited authority to ensure good faith negotiations. And now they’re running deceptive ads. Hopefully Congress and viewers aren’t buying it."