October 1, 2017 Deadline for Retransmission Consent / Must-Carry Elections for All Commercial and Noncommercial Television Stations

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, 2017. A station’s election will govern its carriage status for the period beginning January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2020. As explained below, we recommend that all noncommercial television stations also send letters to both cable systems and satellite systems by October 1, 2017 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, 2017, 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 for the entire upcoming three year period. Similarly, the station runs the risk it will not be able to negotiate a retransmission consent agreement with satellite systems providing local-into-local service in the DMA.

Noncommercial Station Elections for Must-Carry Status: Noncommercial stations are not eligible to elect retransmission consent status. We recommend that noncommercial stations affirmatively notify cable systems of their intent to establish or continue must-carry status. Such elections should include the channel on which the station will be retransmitted. Noncommercial stations must send notices to satellite carriers serving their DMA in order to affirmatively elect mandatory carriage status because the failure to do so will generally preclude carriage of the station by the satellite systems throughout the entire three-year election period.

Election Procedures: The FCC has specific requirements for effective notice of a station’s must-carry/retransmission consent election:

  • The election must be made in writing for the period beginning January 1, 2018, and running through December 31, 2020.
  • The election must be sent no later than October 1, 2017 by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • An election sent to a satellite system must contain the station’s election of either retransmission consent or must-carry status, the station’s call sign, the name of a station contact person, the station’s address for purposes of receiving official correspondence, the station’s community of license, and the station’s DMA. Although not specifically itemized in a Commission rule, the same information should be included in the election letters sent to cable systems.
  • A must-carry election sent to a cable system must also contain the station’s election of channel position. Under the Commission’s rules, a station is generally entitled to elect carriage: on the channel number on which the station broadcasts over-the-air; on the channel on which the station was carried on the cable system on July 19, 1985; on the channel the station was carried on the cable system on January 1, 1992; or on any other channel agreed upon by the station and the cable system.
  • A copy of each election letter must be uploaded to the station’s online public file and remain there throughout the three-year election period.

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.

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.

Categories: Media