change the channels

Covert Consolidation

When you turn on the nightly news, you expect to find competing viewpoints and different perspectives from one station to the next. But in communities across the country, stations that were once fierce competitors have cut staff and merged their newsrooms, in many cases airing the same content on multiple stations in the same market. You can try to change the channel, but all you'll see is the exact same newscast.

This kind of covert consolidation isn’t supposed to happen. But media companies have exploited loopholes in the Federal Communications Commission’s ownership rules. Many broadcasters claim that as long as a company’s name isn’t on a broadcast license, it can control everything from news programming to office operations without being considered an “owner.” But these deals, called “Shared Service Agreements,” look and act just like any other media merger.

Free Press’ advocacy and research led to a big win on March 31, 2014, when the FCC closed a legal loophole TV broadcasters had exploited to operate and profit from purportedly independent stations via Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs).

While the March 31 vote focused only on JSAs, it signals that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is willing to break with the past and stop broadcasters from using shell companies to skirt the agency's ownership limits. Free Press will continue advocating for measures that would put more of the public airwaves into the hands of local owners.

Resources

  • Free Press Action Fund Written Testimony in Ownership Hearing

    On March 12, 2014, Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood testified about broadcasters' illegal use of outsourcing agreements in a hearing before the House of Representatives. These agreements enable companies to dodge the Federal Communications Commission's ownership rules.

    March 12, 2014
  • Cease to Resist: Update to October Report

    This is an updated version of our October 2013 study on broadcasters' use of outsourcing agreements to evade the Federal Communications Commission's ownership rules.

    March 12, 2014
  • Letter from Sen. Jay Rockefeller to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Media Ownership

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler supporting media ownership limits and acknowledging concerns about broadcasters’ use of shell companies and other shady tactics to skirt those rules.

    November 26, 2013
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Blog Posts

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Actions

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Press Releases

  • FCC Approves Sinclair-Allbritton Deal Minus Shell Games

    July 24, 2014
    Washington — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission approved Sinclair Broadcast Group's $985 million acquisition of several Allbritton TV stations, along with NewsChannel 8 in Washington. The final deal is far different from the one Sinclair initially proposed in July 2013. And today’s FCC approval came only after Sinclair was forced to alter the deal in response to opposition by Free Press.
  • Sinclair Abandons Shell Company in Television Ownership Ruse

    May 30, 2014

    WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, Sinclair Broadcast Group told the Federal Communications Commission it would abandon its plans to illegally control multiple stations in the Charleston, S.C., and Birmingham, Ala., markets. The abandoned transactions were part of a $985 million deal with Allbritton Communications involving Sinclair's acquisition of nine television stations and NewsChannel 8. 

  • FCC Moves to Curb Runaway TV Consolidation

    March 31, 2014

    WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission moved for the first time in three decades to roll back media consolidation.

More »

News from Around the Web

  • FCC Puts Kibosh on New JSA Deals

    TVNewsCheck
    March 31, 2014

    The new rule bans new joint sales agreements in which one station sells 15 percent or more of the advertising time of another separately owned station in the same market. In addition, most existing JSAs will expire within two years unless the commission grants an exemption.

  • FCC Chairman Proposes Limits on Local TV Alliances for Retransmission Deals

    Deadline New York
    March 7, 2014

    Public interest groups like Chairman Tom Wheeler’s retransmission consent and TV station shared services agreement proposals better than I envisioned. Public Knowledge says the plans “will represent a meaningful attempt to rein in programming costs.” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron lauded the chairman’s “willingness to steer clear of the mistakes of FCC predecessors who turned a blind eye” to TV alliances and ownership limits.

  • What's Behind Wheeler's JSA Crackdown?

    TVNewsCheck
    February 12, 2014

    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s campaign to crack down on joint sales agreements and other sharing arrangements is being driven by liberal watchdog groups, the pay TV industry — and, perhaps, the chairman’s desire to encourage broadcasters to cash in their channels during the agency’s incentive auction next year, broadcast sources say.

Learn More

  • Fighting Media Consolidation

    The more independent outlets a community has, the more different viewpoints will be presented on the air. But what happens when there’s no one left to compete?
  • Rupert Murdoch Scandal

    There are many reasons the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has riveted public attention around the world. It's a story that features all of the classic elements: crimes, betrayal, abuse of power and even a cover-up.

  • Money, Media and Elections

    The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision launched a new era of big-money politics. The wealthiest 1 percent now has even more power to pick and choose our nation’s leaders. And they’re spending the bulk of this money on televised political ads designed to mislead voters. (Click here to see Free Press' infographic depicting this dysfunctional dynamic.)

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good