FCC Proposes Changes to ATSC 3.0/Next Gen TV Rules

The FCC is proposing to change the Next Gen TV rules to allow Next Gen TV stations to include within their licenses “certain of their non-primary video programming streams (multicast streams) that are aired on ‘host’ stations during a transitional period, using the same licensing framework” for the simulcast of primary video programming streams on “host” station facilities. The changes were proposed in response to a Petition for Declaratory Ruling and Petition for Rulemaking filed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). They are intended to encourage partnerships that will minimize potential disruptions by permitting stations in a market to work together to preserve viewers’ access to ATSC 1.0 programming during the transition to ATSC 3.0. Comments on the proposed changes are due by February 11, 2022, and reply comments by March 14, 2022. Complete information about the proposals is available here.

When stations transition voluntarily to ATSC 3.0, they are required to simulcast at least their primary streams using the current-generation ATSC 1.0 in order to minimize viewer disruption. A Next Gen TV station must either (1) air an ATSC 3.0 channel at the temporary host’s facility, while using its original facility to continue to provide the ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel; or (2) air the ATSC 1.0 simulcast at the temporary host facility while converting its original facility to ATSC 3.0.

NAB’s petition outlined the difficulties transitioning stations face when trying to negotiate agreements with host stations for simulcasting, including hesitance on the part of host stations due to concerns about regulatory liability and whether such multicast agreements are permitted under the Commission’s ATSC 3.0 rules; the exclusion of noncommercial stations from participating in such arrangements; and whether the Commission might not retain enforcement authority over the original station with respect to the guest streams if the agreements are not reflected in the license of the originating station. Most broadcasters that have already transitioned have applied for Special Temporary Authority to have guest multicast streams treated as if originating from the Next Gen TV broadcaster’s facility instead of from the host station’s facility, but using STAs creates uncertainly because they are valid for only six months and granted on a case-by-case basis.

According to the NAB’s Petition, extending a station’s license to cover multicast streams would also assist in establishing that the programming originator of a particular multicast stream – and not the host station – would be ultimately responsible for compliance with FCC programming rules and any liability for potential violations. In response, the Commission has proposed and is seeking comments on the following changes:

    • Next Gen TV stations may license one or more simulcast multicast streams on a host station or stations, whether the guest stream is the 3.0 broadcast or the 1.0 simulcast.
    • Next Gen TV stations which are broadcasting in 3.0 on their own channels may license one or more multicast streams aired only in 1.0 format on a host station or stations even if they are not simulcasting that stream in 3.0, consistent with limits.

The FCC is also seeking comments on whether the rules should permit an originating station to rely on simulcasting its primary stream on two separate partner stations to minimize service loss from its transition to 3.0.

The FCC also addressed certain policy concerns, tentatively concluding that ATSC 3.0 transition rules that apply to primary simulcast streams should also apply to both simulcast and non-simulcast licensed multicast streams aired on host stations, with certain exceptions. The FCC said that these rules would apply until it eliminates the mandatory local simulcasting requirement.

If you have questions about these proposals or would like to submit comments, please contact any attorney in Media practice group.

Categories: Media