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LPTV Broadcasters Want Nielsen Alternatives; NAB Doesn't Agree

Many low-power TV broadcasters want the FCC to consider alternatives to Nielsen for determining broadcaster markets, and nearly every commenter objects to an agency proposal to base a station’s ability to maintain Class A status on its market not growing to over 95,000 households, according to numerous filings -- many nearly identical -- on FCC’s proposals for implementation of the Low Power Protection Act in docket 23-126. NAB joined the objections to the Class A language but said changing the designated market area (DMA) system could disrupt the ATSC 3.0 transition. “Expanding DMA definitions in this manner could have ramifications concerning network and syndicated programming exclusivity and cable carriage, and could inadvertently hinder the transition to ATSC 3.0 in nearby larger markets,” NAB said.

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Had Congress intended the FCC be bound only to Nielsen’s DMA system, it could easily have adopted a strict policy directing use of the Nielsen system,” said nearly identical filings from numerous LPTV broadcasters, including Look Media, CaribeVision, Lowcountry 34 Media and Viper Communications. The nearly identical filings appear to have been prepared with the assistance of the LPTV Broadcasters Association, and all urge the FCC to switch from Nielsen DMAs to a census-based system of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Nielsen’s definitions aren’t logical, don’t assess LPTV ratings, and its data requires costly fees, said the commenters in filings posted through Tuesday.

Not all the filings opposing the FCC’s use of Nielsen were form letters. “We urge the Commission to fully evaluate the use of reliable and free data available to it in the form of the Census Bureau’s designated MSAs,” said Communications Technologies. “The Nielsen DMA system is geographically overbroad and groups some of the most rural areas in the U.S. with distant major cities, rendering the former ineligible for Class A status,” said Flood Communications. News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting said the FCC should permit the use of Comscore data as an alternative to Nielsen to determine Class A eligibility.

Since Class A stations are protected from interference, redefining markets to create many new ones could “effectively block coverage and service improvements by full-service stations” and could “inadvertently stall or hinder” the ATSC 3.0 transition, NAB said: “Changing the DMA definitions by creating several new, smaller DMAs from existing larger ones or by substituting market definitions used for other purposes contradicts Congress’s express intent in the LPPA.” The Media Bureau alternative to Nielsen is currently available.

NAB and the LPTV commenters found common ground on an FCC proposal to require Class A broadcasters to operate only in DMAs with no more than 95,000 television households or lose their Class A status. “Nielsen DMAs are not static; the market definitions can change from time to time and populations within those markets can grow or shrink,” said NAB. “Market size is well outside the factors any station is able to control,” said News Press & Gazette. “Viewers should be able to rely on local, protected Class A service once a station has obtained Class A status.” “Were the FCC to make continued eligibility for Class A status contingent on a stations’ markets remaining below the 95,000 television household cap, licensees would lack sufficient regulatory certainty to pursue primary spectrum use status,” said Flood Communications.

The FCC should use the opportunity presented by the LPPA to review its interference protections in the T-Band, said the County of Los Angeles. LA County uses the T-band for public safety communications, the filing said. The FCC “must require that any upgrading station seeking to potentially increase their operational parameters, and thus increase potential interference to land mobile stations, to meet updated protection requirements to be adopted in this proceeding,” the County said.