Local marketing agreement

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In U.S. and Canadian broadcasting, a local marketing agreement (or local management agreement, abbreviated as an LMA) is an agreement in which one company agrees to operate a radio or television station owned by another licensee (the "junior" partner). In essence, it is a sort of lease or time-buy.

Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, a local marketing agreement must give the company operating the station (the "senior" partner) under the agreement control over the entire facilities of the station, including the finances, personnel and programming of the station. Its original licencee still remains legally responsible for the station and its operations, such as compliance with relevant regulations regarding content. Occasionally, a "local marketing agreement" may refer to the sharing or contracting of only certain functions, in particular advertising sales. This may also be referred to as a local sales agreement (LSA), management services agreement (MSA), joint sales agreement (JSA), or a shared services agreement (SSA). JSAs are counted toward ownership caps for television and radio stations.[1][2] In Canada, local marketing agreements between domestic stations require the consent of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), although Rogers Media has used a similar arrangement to control an U.S.-based radio station in a border market.

The increased use of sharing agreements by media companies to form consolidated, "virtual" duopolies became controversial between 2009 and 2014, especially arrangements where a company buys a station's facilities and assets, but sells the license to an affiliated third-party and operates it under a sharing agreement. Activists have argued that broadcasters were using these agreements as a loophole for the FCC's ownership regulations, that they reduce the number of local media outlets in a market through the aggregation or outright consolidation of news programming, and allow station owners to have increased leverage in the negotiation of retransmission consent with local subscription television providers. Station owners have contended that these sharing agreements allow streamlined, cost-effective operations that may be beneficial to the continued operation of lower-rated and/or financially weaker stations, especially in smaller markets.[3]

Background[edit]

The first local marketing agreement in North American television was formed in 1991, when Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased Fox affiliate WPGH-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As Sinclair had already owned independent station WPTT (now MyNetworkTV affiliate WPMY) in that market, which would have violated FCC rules which at the time had prohibited television station duopolies, Sinclair decided to sell the lower-rated WPTT to the station's manager Eddie Edwards, but continued to operate the station through an LMA (Sinclair eventually repurchased the station – then assigned the call letters WCWB – outright in 2000, after the Federal Communications Commission began permitting common ownership of two television stations in the same market, creating a legal duopoly).[4]

In 1999, the FCC modified its media ownership rules to count LMAs formed after November 5, 1996 that cover more than 15% of the broadcast day toward the ownership limits for the brokering station's owner.[5] Even still, the related joint sales and shared services agreement structures became increasingly common during the 2000s; these outsourcing agreements proliferated between 2011 and 2013, when station owners such as Sinclair and Nexstar Broadcasting Group began expanding their portfolios by acquiring additional stations in an effort to drive scale as well as to gain leverage in retransmission consent negotiations with cable and satellite television providers.

Uses[edit]

The most common use of an LMA in television broadcasting is to create a "virtual duopoly", where the stations operated under the agreement are consolidated into a single entity. The operations of the stations can be streamlined for cost-effectiveness through the sharing of resources, such as facilities, advertising sales, personnel and programming.[6] Many broadcasters who engage in the practice believe that such agreements are beneficial to the survival of television stations – especially in smaller markets, where the overall audience reach is considerably less than that of markets that are centered upon densely populated metropolitan areas – where the cost savings achieved through the consolidation of resources and staff may be necessary to fund a station's continued operation.[6][7]

Local marketing agreements may also be used as a loophole to control television stations in situations where it is legally impossible to own them outright. For instance, FCC regulations only allow a single company to own more than one full-powered television station in a given market if there are at least eight distinct station owners, and also prohibits the ownership of two or more of the four highest-rated stations (based on total day viewership) in a market. An LMA or similar agreement does not affect the ownership of the station's license, meaning that they do not require the approval of the FCC to establish, and the two stations are still legally considered separate operations from a licensing standpoint.[7] Both Tribune Broadcasting and the Gannett Company were required to use shared services agreements as a similar loophole to take control of certain stations in their respective purchases of Local TV and Belo, as they did not have exemptions to the FCC's newspaper cross-ownership restrictions in the affected markets. For Tribune, the situation is only temporary, as the company is in the process of spinning off its newspaper arm as an independent company.[8][9]

LMAs can also allow companies to control foreign stations; Canadian media company Rogers Media uses a joint sales agreement to operate Cape Vincent, New York radio station WLYK as a station targeting the nearby Canadian market of Kingston, Ontario, where it owns CKXC-FM and CIKR-FM. Rogers owns a 47% stake in its licensee, Border International Broadcasting.[10][11] Similarly, Entravision Communications Corporation controls XHDTV-TDT, a Tijuana, Mexico-based station owned by Televisora Alco, which operates as an English-language station serving the border market of San Diego.[12]

Although the majority of LMAs involve the outsourcing of one television station's operations to another, occasionally, a company may operate a station under an LMA, JSA or SSA even if it does not already own a station in that market. One example occurred in December 2013, when Louisiana Media Company (owned by New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson) entered into a shared services agreement with Raycom Media to run the formr company's Fox affiliate in New Orleans, Louisiana, WVUE-DT; while Louisiana Media Company retained the station's ownership and license, other assets were assumed by Raycom, which owns stations in markets adjacent to New Orleans (including Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and Shreveport) but not within New Orleans itself. Benson had received offers from Raycom and others to buy the station, but was not prepared to sell WVUE outright.[13][14] Tribune Broadcasting operates the Norfolk, Virginia duopoly of CBS affiliate WTKR-TV and CW affiliate WGNT and ABC affiliate WNEP in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the same manner due to the aforementioned newspaper crossownership restrictions; Tribune manages all three stations under shared services agreements with owner Dreamcatcher Broadcasting (owned by former Tribune executive Ed Wilson), but does not own any stations itself in the Norfolk and Scranton markets.[9]

Effects of LMAs[edit]

Public interest organizations have disapproved of the use of LMAs for virtual duopolies that circumvent the FCC's rules due to their effects on the broadcasting industry, particularly the results of consolidation through the irregular use of LMAs.[6][7] In markets where duopolies are not legally possible, a company may elect to form one by purchasing a station's "non-license" assets (such as their physical facilities and other intellectual property), and selling the license itself to a third-party "sidecar" company, which in turn, enters into an LMA or a similar agreement with the senior partner. The FCC only recognizes ownership of television stations by the ownership of their license and facility ID, and not by the ownership of these "non-license" assets; this means that the senior partner becomes the de facto owner of the station, but the sidecar (which is, in some cases, tied to the purchaser) is still the legal owner.[15][6][7] Although the FCC determines a sidecar firm to be an independent entity from the company using it to outsource station operations for licensing purposes, the Securities and Exchange Commission does not make such a designation, requiring reports on sidecars to be included in a broadcaster's financial statements.[16][17]

Both Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Broadcasting Group became infamous for their frequent use of sidecars as part of their expansion and consolidation tactics, partnering with companies like Cunningham Broadcasting (whose stock assets are largely controlled by the family of Sinclair founder Julian Smith), Deerfield Media, Mission Broadcasting, and even each other in the case of a virtual duopoly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania between Sinclair-owned CBS affiliate WHP-TV and Nexstar-owned CW affiliate WLYH-TV, and a former virtual duopoly in Rochester, New York between Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate WROC-TV and Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate WUHF (in the wake of Sinclair and Deerfield's purchase of ABC affiliate WHAM-TV, this particular arrangement ended in January 2014).[18][6][7] While not to the same extent as Sinclair and Nexstar, Raycom Media has a similar business relationship with American Spirit Media, which similarly owns stations in Raycom markets (such as Toledo, Ohio) that it runs under an SSA,[19] and Granite Broadcasting operated virtual duopolies in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Duluth, Minnesota with the sidecar Malara Broadcast Group. In 2014, it was announced that the Granite/Malara stations would respectively be sold to Quincy Newspapers and SagamoreHill Broadcasting, with Quincy operating SagamoreHill's stations under an SSA – however, in Fort Wayne, the structure of the existing duopoly will be reversed, with NBC affiliate WISE-TV (previously owned by Granite as the senior partner) operated by ABC affiliate WPTA.[20]

The partnered stations may also consolidate their news operations: local newscasts on the junior partner in the LMA, if it operated a separate news department before the LMA's formation, may be rescheduled or scaled back to prevent direct competition with newscasts airing on the station acting as the senior partner (the actual amount of news programming featured on the brokered station varies depending on how the outsourcing agreement is structured as well as how the brokered station is programmed; in the United States, it is common for a brokered station in an LMA, SSA or JSA that is affiliated with Fox, a minor network such as The CW or MyNetworkTV or is operated as an independent station – to air fewer hours of local news programming than a brokered station affiliated with a "big three" network, such as ABC, CBS or NBC, and have their newscasts air outside of common news timeslots; for example, a weekday morning newscast on the brokered station may air from 7-9 a.m. instead of 5-7 a.m. or 5-9 a.m.), or the stations may even simulcast newscasts in certain timeslots. The stations may either retain separate news productions (differentiated by on-air branding, anchors, or overall format), or share a single joint brand.

Redundant staff members are often laid off as part of the consolidation process, and the merger may reduce the number of unique editorial voices in a market; a seemingly separate newscast on one station in the duopoly may ultimately consist of repackaged news content from the other station. This in particular is one of the caveats of pushes to ban outsourcing agreements by media consolidation critics, who also suggest that LMAs result in a decreased amount of local news coverage on the brokered station.[7][21][7][6]

How the stations may be consolidated vary depending on the agreement's structure, for example:

  • In Evansville, Indiana, Mission Broadcasting acquired then-independent station WTVW (now a CW affiliate) in 2011 with its former owner Nexstar Broadcasting retaining operational duties under an SSA. WTVW consolidated news operations with ABC affiliate WEHT, for which Nexstar traded WTVW to Mission in exchange for acquiring WEHT from Gilmore Broadcasting Corporation, and had its newscast output reduced through the reductions of its weekday morning newscast from four hours to two and its 6 p.m. newscast – except on Sundays, where it remained one hour – from one hour to 30 minutes (leaving only a two-hour morning newscast, half-hour noon and 6:30 p.m. newscasts and an hour-long newscast at 9 p.m.). Both stations also adopted a joint Eyewitness News brand for their newscasts.[22][23]
  • In 2009, Raycom Media (owner of Honolulu-based NBC and MyNetworkTV affiliates, KHNL and KFVE) announced it would take over the operations of the local CBS affiliate KGMB (then owned by MCG Capital Corporation), giving it control of three television stations in Hawaii. The deal was a complex arrangement which involved trading the non-license assets of KFVE (such as its call sign, programming, and network affiliation) for those of KGMB (placing the station under Raycom ownership, but using KFVE's license, signal, and virtual channel 5), and taking over KFVE (which moved to the channel 9 license owned by MCG Capital) under a local marketing agreement. Due to its nature, the swap was not a transaction that would require the intervention of the FCC, aside from the changing of call signs. The three stations were then folded into a shared news operation known as Hawaii News Now. An estimated 68 positions from a total of 198 from the three stations would be eliminated as part of the agreement.[15][24] On November 20, 2013, MCG Capital filed to sell KFVE to the aforementioned American Spirit Media.[25]
  • In 2013, through its acquisition of stations from Newport Television, Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting formed a full-power virtual quadropoly in Little Rock, Arkansas that consists of two duopolies owned by the two companies respectively; NBC station KARK-TV and MyNetworkTV station KARZ-TV (owned by Nexstar), along with Fox station KLRT-TV and CW station KASN (owned by Mission, operated by Nexstar under a local marketing agreement). All four stations were consolidated into KARK's facilities; 30 employees were laid off as part of the consolidation.[26] Once KARK/KARZ took over the operations of KLRT/KASN, KLRT reduced its weeknight 5 p.m. newscast from one hour to 30 minutes (limiting it to the 5:30 half-hour) and dropped its 10 p.m. newscast, while adding a two-hour weekday morning newscast and retaining its existing hour-long newscast at 9 p.m.[26]
  • In October 2008, Tribune Broadcasting and Local TV consolidated the operations of their respective CW and Fox affiliates in Denver and St. Louis, resulting from a groupwide management agreement between both companies:[27][28] in Denver, CW affiliate KWGN-TV moved into Fox affiliate KDVR's facilities in the Speer neighborhood; while in St. Louis, Fox affiliate KTVI – despite being the senior partner in the LMA with CW affiliate KPLR – moved into the latter station's Maryland Heights studios. Both cities were (and still are) top-25 markets, making Denver and St. Louis the largest where any English-language stations were involved in an LMA; however, both cities had enough stations to allow a legal duopoly (this was not possible with KPLR and KTVI as both were among the four highest-rated stations in St. Louis at the time, ahead of ratings-challenged ABC affiliate KDNL-TV), and were large enough to support at least four television news operations (Denver had five and St. Louis had four news-producing stations prior to the formation of the LMA). KWGN and KPLR moved The CW's primetime lineup one hour later (to 8 p.m.) than the network-recommended timeslot, and shifted their evening newscasts to 7 p.m. (weekend editions of the evening newscasts were discontinued with the move; KPLR has since expanded its 7 p.m. newscast to Saturday and Sunday evenings) to avoid competing with KDVR and KTVI's 9 p.m. newscasts; KWGN retained its weekday morning newscast (which competes directly with KDVR's morning newscast), but canceled its 5:30 p.m. – and later, 11 a.m. – newscasts. In contrast, KPLR (which had only ran a primetime newscast for much of its history) eventually added hour-long midday and late afternoon newscasts.[29][30][31][32][33] The two LMA arrangements became legal duopolies in December 2013, once Tribune finalized its acquisition of Local TV.[34][35]
  • By contrast, when the operations of WAGT (the Schurz Communications-owned NBC affiliate in Augusta, Georgia), were taken over by Media General's ABC affiliate WJBF-TV, the stations aimed to create a more efficient operation through consolidation, while maintaining separate on-air brands and news programming. A new, high-definition capable facility was constructed in a former Barnes & Noble location for the stations. Both WAGT and WJBF maintain their own studios (along with a third for shared and non-station specific productions), newsrooms, and sales departments within the facility. While the newscasts on both stations do share some "factual" video content, they are otherwise produced independently of each other. However, upon the consolidation, most of WAGT's managerial staff were dismissed and other employees were reassigned to different positions.[36][37][38]
  • In 2010, Nexstar announced a new joint news operation for its consolidated cluster in Utica/Rome, New York, which consists of Nexstar-owned Fox and MyNetworkTV affiliates WFXV and WPNY-LP, and Mission-owned ABC affiliate WUTR. Unlike the other examples, neither station had a pre-existing newscast at the time; WUTR's original news department was closed in 2003 by previous owner Clear Channel Communications as a cost-saving measure, and WFXV had never aired local news programming at all. Its slate included early and late evening newscasts on WUTR, an encore of WUTR's evening newscast on WPNY, and a 10 p.m. newscast on WFXV with a faster, younger-skewing format. The station's executive vice president, Steve Merren (who had come from NBC affiliate WKTV, which had the sole television news operation in the market prior to the formation of Nexstar's Eyewitness News operation) believed that it "[was] important that the community has another source of news. We have one newspaper and one news station and the community could benefit from another voice."[39][40][41]
  • In 2012, Sinclair Broadcast Group formed a virtual quadropoly in Mobile, Alabama between its existing duopoly of ABC affiliate WEAR-TV and MyNetworkTV affiliate WFGX and NBC affiliate WPMI and independent station WJTC (the latter duopoly was acquired as part of Newport Television's initial sale of its stations to Sinclair, Nexstar and Cox Media Group, and was sold to Deerfield Media). Unlike some of the examples mentioned above (particularly the Little Rock virtual quadropoly created through Newport's deal with Nexstar), neither duopoly has experienced any significant effects from the formation of the shared services agreement between the stations. WEAR/WFGX and WPMI/WJTC retain separate studio facilities, news departments and staff, and the senior partners of both stations even produce competing primetime newscasts for their respective duopoly partners (WJTC's 9 p.m. newscast is produced by WPMI and WFGX's 9 p.m. newscast is produced by WEAR).[42][43][44]

Broadcasters could also collect carriage fees for the stations they operate under sharing agreements on behalf of their owner, often bundling its carriage agreements with those of stations they own outright. This can, especially in LMAs between two stations affiliated with the "major" networks, allow the broadcaster to charge higher fees for retransmission consent to television providers for carrying the stations, which could result in smaller cable companies not being able to afford the higher fees imposed. Cable television providers have also advocated barring sharing agreements between television stations for this particular reason. In the United States, the FCC no longer allows broadcasters to collude with one another in negotiating retransmission consent fees.[6][7][3]

Gannett's 2013 acquisition of Belo was opposed by organizations such as the American Cable Association and Free Press, due to Gannett's plans to use LMAs and two shell companies owned by former Belo and Fisher Communications executives (Sander Media and Tucker Operating Co.) to dodge FCC newspaper cross-ownership restrictions in Louisville, Phoenix, Portland and Tucson. Although Gannett contended that the arrangements were legal, Free Press president Craig Aaron stated that "the FCC shouldn't let Gannett break the rules. Media consolidation results in fewer journalists in the newsroom and fewer opinions on the airwaves. Concentrating media outlets in the hands of just a few companies benefits only the companies themselves." Concerns surrounding Gannett's cross-ownership of stations in Arizona soon became moot; Tucson's KMSB and KTTU were already operated by Raycom Media under a shared services agreement established under Belo ownership (however, Gannett would still handle advertising sales for the stations), while Meredith Corporation announced a deal to purchase independent station KTVK and CW affiliate KASW right after the completion of the Gannett/Belo deal (however, due to Meredith's ownership of KPHO-TV, it will sell KASW to SagamoreHill Broadcasting and operate it under an LMA).[45][8][46]

Government action[edit]

In February 2001, Clear Channel Communications subsidiary Citicasters was fined $25,000 for its use of time brokerage agreements and litigation for unlawfully controlling Youngstown, Ohio area radio station WBTJ (101.9 FM, now WYLR); the company had also been the target of complaints for using KFJO (FM) to rebroadcast KSJO after it had nominally sold KFJO to minority-owned interests.[47] [48][49][50]

In 2009, the Media Council of Hawaii complained to the FCC about Raycom's Hawaii News Now operation, stating that it would "directly reduce the diversity of local voices in a community by replacing independent newscasts on the brokered station with those of the brokering station." In response, the FCC stated it would begin to investigate into the matter.[7][51] The FCC later began to consider potential changes to its duopoly rule to remove the LMA loophole; tabling a proposal that would make such agreements count the same as ownership.[52]

In December 2013, acting upon its proposed acquisition of Allbritton Communications, FCC Video Division Chief Barbara Kreisman sent a letter demanding information from Sinclair Broadcast Group on the financial aspects of its "sidecar" operations, and warned that "in three of the markets – Charleston, Birmingham and Harrisburg – the proposed transactions would result in the elimination of the grandfathered status of certain local marketing agreements and thus cause the transactions to violate our local TV ownership rules." It was asserted that the deal might only be legal if the affected stations were operated under shared services agreements.[53][54] Sinclair restructured the deal in March 2014, choosing to sell its existing stations in Harrisburg, Charleston and Birmingham and terminate an SSA with the Cunningham-owned Fox affiliate in Charleston to acquire the Allbritton-owned stations in those markets (while also creating a new duopoly between the ABC and CW affiliates in Birmingham), as well as foregoing any operational or financial agreements with the buyers of the stations being sold to other parties.[55][56]

In the midst of its December 2013 purchase of Belo, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the Gannett Company from using an agreement with Sander Media to operate CBS affiliate KMOV alongside its own NBC-affiliated station KSDK, and ordered Gannett to sell KMOV. Even though Gannett planned to operate KMOV separately from KSDK, the Department ruled the agreement to be a violation of antitrust law, as it would reduce competition for advertising sales.[57] Following the closure of the Belo deal, Gannett announced that KMOV, along with Belo's Phoenix stations (KTVK and KASW, where it would have formed a virtual triopoly with its own KPNX) would be sold to Meredith Corporation.[46]

FCC limits on joint sales agreements[edit]

In January 2014 town hall meeting, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler disclosed that he planned to place more scrutiny on the use of LMA-style agreements and shell companies, stating that "there were a couple of references in a couple of recent decisions in which we've said that we’re going to do things differently going forward on what were called these shell corporations." Later that month, it was reported that the FCC had placed all pending acquisitions involving the use of shell companies on hold, so the Commission could discuss changes to its policies. Among the deals affected by this decision are the aforementioned Sinclair/Allbritton purchase.[58][59]

On March 6, 2014, the FCC announced that it would hold a vote on March 31 on a proposal to ban joint sales agreements involving television stations outright, making them attributable to FCC ownership limits if the senior partner sells 15% or more of advertising time of a competing junior partner station in the JSA; the ban applies to both existing sharing agreements under such a structure as well as pending station transactions that include a JSA. Station owners will be given a two-year grace period to unwind or modify joint sales agreements in violation of the policy; coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between two of the four highest-rated stations in a single market would also be barred under the proposal. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler also proposed an expedited process to review joint sales agreements on a case-by-case basis, granting a waiver of the rules if a broadcaster can prove a particular joint sales agreement arrangement serves the public interest.[60][61] On March 12, 2014, the FCC Media Bureau released a notice that it would further analyze television station transactions that include sharing agreements, particularly those that include a purchase option that "may counter any incentive the licensee has to increase the value of the station, since the licensee may be unlikely to realize that increased value.” Under the new provisions, broadcasters must demonstrate in their transaction applications as to how such deals would serve the public interest.[62] The National Association of Broadcasters – which, along with station groups such as Sinclair Broadcast Group, have disapproved of the proposal to ban JSAs – presented a compromise proposal, in which the brokered licensee in a sharing agreement would retain control over at least 85% of the station’s programming, maintain at least 70% of ad sales revenue and “maintain at least 20% of station value in the license itself”.[63]

On March 31, 2014, the FCC voted 3-2 to approve the proposed ban on joint sales agreements and voted 5-0 to approve the proposed ban on coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between two of a market's four highest-rated stations; the prohibitions took effect immediately. Under the restrictions, the FCC would rule on waivers to maintain select existing JSAs within 90 days of the application's filing. The FCC also began a request for comment on policies to address other agreements, such as shared services agreements.[2][3][64] The prohibition on television JSAs had been proposed as early as 2004, a year after the FCC voted to treat JSAs between radio stations as duopolies. Despite this fact, broadcasting companies have blasted the ban on JSAs since its proposal stage, accusing the Commission of using it as a move to push broadcasters into participating in an spectrum auction set to occur in 2015, and stating that the ban would place them at a disadvantage during retransmission consent negotiations with pay television providers.[65][66]

Internationally[edit]

In a 2005 Canadian dispute, Rogers Media and Newcap Broadcasting had a joint sales agreement pertaining to CHNO-FM in Sudbury, Ontario, but community interests and the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting presented substantial evidence to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that in practice, the agreement was a de facto LMA, going significantly beyond advertising sales into program production and news-gathering. LMAs in Canada cannot be implemented without the CRTC's approval, and in early 2005, the CRTC ordered the agreement to cease.[67]

In 2008, the Filipino Associated Broadcasting Company leased its airtime to the Malaysian broadcaster Media Prima (through the local subsidiary MPB Primedia, Inc) in a similar fashion to an LMA – with MPB Primedia providing entertainment programming, and ABC handling news programming and operations. Soon afterward, ABC and Media Prima were sued by rival media company GMA Network, Inc. for attempting to use the partnership to skirt laws requiring domestic ownership of broadcasters. In response, ABC's media relations head Pat Marcelo-Magbanua reiterated that the subsidiary was a Filipino company which was self-registered and Filipino-run.[68] The concerns became moot in 2010, when Media Prima announced it would divest its ownership in the network to the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company's broadcasting subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings.[69]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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