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Draft LPTV NPRM Seeks Comment on Replacing Nielsen DMAs

A draft NPRM on circulation on the FCC’s 10th floor would seek comment on the agency’s implementation of the Low Power Protection Act but also asks for feedback on an LPTV-backed proposal to replace the FCC’s use of Nielsen designated market areas with a population based system, FCC officials told us. Despite being included in the draft NPRM, the DMA proposal isn’t seen as having much traction at the agency: the Media Bureau said last year there's no viable alternative to Nielsen. The NPRM isn’t considered controversial and is expected to be unanimously approved. The FCC uses a census-based system for cellphones and should therefore be able to use it for television, said LPTV Broadcasters Association President Frank Copsidas in an interview: “What is so complicated?”

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The draft item seeks comment on how the FCC should implement the Low Power Protection Act, which became law in January. Aside from the portion on DMAs, the draft hews closely to the statute, FCC officials told us. The act requires the FCC to create a window in which qualifying LPTV stations could become Class A stations. Class A's aren’t considered a secondary service and thus can’t be automatically displaced by full-power TV stations. To take advantage of the window, the LPTV stations have to be in markets of 95,000 households or fewer and carry three hours per week of local programming. LPTV groups such as the National Television Association said few LPTV broadcasters will be eligible for the window, and the LPTVBA opposed the bill.

The NPRM also seeks comment on the LPTVA’s proposal to use population to determine market, using an OMB metric that divides markets into metropolitan statistical areas and rural service areas, “MSAs and RSAs have been utilized by the Commission for more than thirty years in cellular licensing,” said a February letter from Copsidas to the FCC. Nielsen largely hasn’t provided useful measurements for LPTV broadcasters, and doesn’t reliably provide accurate results, Copsidas said in an interview. “While the FCC has used Nielsen to define DMAs, obtaining up-to-date, official DMA rankings is practically impossible for broadcasters who cannot afford to pay Nielsen for licensing,” said the LPTVBA letter. Nielsen didn’t comment.

The OMB metrics rely on census data rather than “a private company with an agenda,” said Copsidas. Census data is public so LPTV broadcasters could use it without paying fees, and the markets would better reflect localism, Copsidas said. The LPTVBA repeatedly pushed for changing the name of the LPTV service to “Local Power TV.”

The Media Ratings Council suspended Nielsen’s accreditation for TV in 2021, and the MRC still lists the company as “under review.” But in a ministerial proceeding connected with DMAs last year, the FCC Media Bureau said it's “premature” to begin a proceeding on replacing Nielsen: “There is currently no apparent alternative data source for the Commission to rely upon.” The bureau was responding to calls from FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington for the agency to reexamine its dependence on Nielsen.

Though broadcasters are widely dissatisfied with Nielsen (see Ref:2208300050]), industry and FCC officials told us the agency is unlikely to shift away from the service soon. NAB also said no practical alternative to Nielsen is available now, and broadcast industry officials said shifting away from the current system would be extremely disruptive. Simington’s office didn’t comment.

The Low Power Protection Act “is for Low Power Television, a service that Nielsen has ignored,” said the LPTVBA letter.