All commercial television stations and qualified low-power television (LPTV) stations must send their must-carry/retransmission consent election notices to both cable systems and direct broadcast satellite systems in their Designated Market Area (DMA) no later than October 1, 2014. A station’s election will govern its carriage status for the period beginning January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2017. As explained below, all noncommercial television stations should also send letters to both cable systems and to satellite systems by October 1, 2014 confirming their desire for required carriage on cable and satellite systems serving their DMA.
Default Election Status Differs For Cable Systems and Satellite Systems: If a commercial television or LPTV station fails to make any election by October 1, 2014, it will be deemed by default to have elected must-carry status with respect to cable carriage – but it will be deemed by default to have elected retransmission consent status for satellite carriage. A station bound by the statutory default election will be unable to demand retransmission consent payments from local cable systems and will likely be precluded from mandatory carriage of the station’s signal on the satellite systems providing local-into-local service in the DMA for the entire upcoming three-year election period.
Election Procedures: The FCC has specific requirements for effective notice of the station’s must-carry/retransmission consent election:
The must-carry election notice should also designate the channel of the station’s primary programming stream (e.g., Channel XX.1).
Geographic Area In Which Stations Are Entitled To Carriage: A commercial television station may demand must-carry status on all cable systems within its Nielsen-defined television market. Noncommercial stations may exercise their must carry rights on cable systems whose principal headend is located within 50 miles of the reference point for the community to which the station is licensed or on any cable system of which the principal headend is located within the station’s digital noise limited signal contour.
Noncommercial Stations Should Affirmatively Elect Must-Carry Status: Noncommercial stations are not eligible to elect retransmission consent status. Nonetheless, we strongly recommend that noncommercial stations affirmatively notify cable systems of their intent to establish or continue must-carry status with respect to all cable systems with a principal headend located within 50 miles of the station’s community of license or within the station’s digital noise limited service contour. Noncommercial stations must send notices to satellite carriers serving their DMA in order to affirmatively elect mandatory carriage status on local-into-local satellite services. As noted above, the failure to send election letters to satellite systems will generally preclude carriage of the station by the satellite systems throughout the entire three-year election period.
If you would like assistance with respect to the carriage election notification letters or have any questions about the must-carry/retransmission consent election process, please contact any attorney in our firm.