Post-TV Auction Landscape to Be Revealed

Posted on March 29th, 2017 by

Sometime in mid-April 2017, the future of TV broadcasting between channels 2 and 36 will become clear. Or perhaps we should say clearer. That’s when the FCC plans to publish its auction closing notice, identifying stations that had successful auctions, what stations will cease broadcasting, and the channels on which remaining stations will be assigned. We heard that collective sigh of relief, and we share in it. But the hard work is ahead, and though the FCC has put a brave face on it, the post-auction repack will be a very bumpy ride.

With a rigidity that has been a hallmark of the FCC’s auction process, the FCC’s repack plans leave little room for the unforeseen or the complexity and scope of the station changes to come. Indeed, they are so rigid that NAB has objected by filing a petition for reconsideration, calling on the FCC to add flexibility and accept the reality that such transitions take longer than 39 months, citing the recent eight-year TV analog-to-digital transition as a prime example.

We agree with NAB’s comments, though we’ll give the FCC one thing – Congress mandated the 39-month transition. Nevertheless, an agency skilled enough to put on a first-of-its-kind spectrum auction should possess the ability to interpret Congress’ intent in a way that does not jeopardize stations and viewers. And if it cannot, we suggest that a visit to Capitol Hill is in order to get more time. Side note – while there, getting some additional funds allocated for repack expenses might be a good idea.

Enough for our soapbox. For stations that have to change channels in the repack, a critical 90-day period is around the corner. Once the closing auction notice is issued, stations changing channels will have 90 days to file a construction permit for their new channel and file an estimate of the anticipated channel-change costs. And for stations that want to forego getting reimbursed for the channel change in exchange for being allowed flexible use of their spectrum for non-broadcast purposes (other than one free over the air broadcast signal), there will only be 30 days from the issuance of the closing auction notice to make that decision and file a request for that right.

From there, the shuffling begins, with stations transitioning to their new channels in a series of ten phases. Numerous filings, updates, requests and notices will be necessary for a station to make a channel change. All stations – those being repacked or not – should pay very close attention to their specific market and neighboring markets. Stations being repacked (and stations not being repacked that experience certain levels of interference) will be entitled to request channel changes. Needless to say, the closing auction notice setting the post-auction channel assignments in your market will evolve and may look a lot different by the time the repack is finished.

Ready yet? Have any questions? Let us know. Or watch this FCC webinar. Or check out the associated PowerPoint presentation. But whatever you do, fasten your seat belts, there’s turbulence ahead.