July 6, 2012
Broadcasters File FCC Complaints Against Cable Operators for Unauthorized Retransmission
Recently, broadcasters have filed complaints with the FCC alleging that certain cable operators are carrying broadcast signals without permission from the broadcaster. In one case, the FCC imposed forfeitures totaling $30,000 against a small operator for unauthorized retransmission of two broadcast signals. These cases serve as a reminder that under the Communications Act and FCC rules, cable operators may not carry a broadcast signal without the broadcaster’s written consent, unless carried pursuant to the “must carry” rules. As these recent cases demonstrate, carrying the broadcast signals without the appropriate retransmission consent authority can result in steep penalties.
If you have any questions about your system’s authority to carry broadcast signals, or the retransmission consent rules in general, please contact Scott Friedman, Adriana Kissel, or Jake Baldwin at (312) 372-3930 or firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video Description Rules Effective July 1, 2012
On July 1, 2012, the FCC’s video description rules, which implement the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, took effect. Video description is an audio description of a program’s key visual elements for the visually impaired.
Under the new rules, local broadcast affiliates of the Big Four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and the top 5 non-broadcast networks (Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, and USA) in the top 25 markets must provide 50 hours per quarter of video-described prime time or children’s programming. On July 1, 2015, these rules will extend to the top 60 television markets.
MVPD systems serving 50,000 or more subscribers must generally pass through the video description provided by the applicable broadcast station or network. MVPD Systems serving fewer than 50,000 subscribers must pass through the applicable broadcast station or network video description if: (i) the station or network provides a video description; (ii) the channel on which the programming is carried is technically capable; and (iii) the provider is not using the technology for another purpose that would conflict with providing video description.
Viewability Rule to Sunset in Six Months; Small System HD Carriage Exemption Extended for Three Years
On June 12, 2012, the FCC announced the sunset of the FCC’s dual must-carry, or “viewability” rule, and extended for three more years the HD carriage exemption for eligible small cable system operators.
The Communications Act requires cable operators to make must-carry broadcast signals viewable by all of their subscribers. Operators of systems that carry both analog and digital signals, also known as “hybrid” systems, previously had two ways of complying with the viewability requirement for HD must-carry signals: (i) carry the must-carry signal in analog for all-analog subscribers, in addition to carrying a digital version; or (ii) transition to an all-digital system. After December 12, 2012, operators may make must-carry broadcast signals accessible to analog subscribers by “any effective means,” which includes offering conversion equipment for sale or lease, either for free or at an affordable cost (i.e., less than $2 per month).
Until the rule sunsets, hybrid systems must continue carrying must-carry stations in both analog and digital. Hybrid operators that want to stop carrying must-carry stations in analog may transition to all-digital signal carriage by: (i) offering analog subscribers conversion equipment at an affordable cost, (ii) providing 90 days prior written notice of the signal carriage change to affected broadcast stations and customers, and 30 days prior written notice to customers affected by a service change. Note, FCC rules prohibit the deletion or repositioning of broadcast stations during sweeps (generally February, May, July, and November).
In addition, the FCC extended the small cable system HD carriage exemption for three more years – through June 12, 2015. This rule exempts certain small systems from having to carry must-carry HD broadcast signals in HD. Eligible small systems already relying on the exemption may continue transmitting these signals in SD or analog for at least the next three years. However, the FCC warned that the exemption is not intended to be permanent, and that its purpose is to provide small systems with additional time to come into full compliance with the rules by upgrading their systems without having to make relatively large expenditures over a short period of time.
The FCC’s Report and Order can be found at http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2012/db0612/FCC-12-59A1.pdf ).
If you have any questions about the FCC’s viewability rules or small system HD carriage exemption, please contact James Moskowitz at (202) 872-6881 or email@example.com.
Copyright Forms and Fees Due August 29, 2012
Cable operators must file with the U.S. Copyright Office their Statement of Accounts (Form SA1-2 or SA3) and pay any royalty fees due for the January 2012 – June 2012 accounting period by August 29, 2012. The following forms apply:
- SA1-2 Short Form. For use by cable television systems with semiannual gross receipts of less than $527,600.
- SA3 Long Form. For use by cable television systems with semiannual gross receipts of $527,600 or more.
Copyright royalty fees must be remitted by electronic payment. If you have any questions about copyright forms or fees, please contact Heidi Schmid at (312) 372-3930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit our website at www.cinnamonmueller.com http://www.cinnamonmueller.com to learn more about our lawyers and practice. You can reach Cinnamon Mueller at (312) 372-3930. This update is provided by the law firm of Cinnamon Mueller. The document is intended for informational purposes only as a service to clients of Cinnamon Mueller and to the members of the American Cable Association. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice or to substitute obtaining appropriate legal counsel. We encourage you to consult with counsel to address special compliance issues and for assistance in negotiating or handling any such matter referred to in the update.