Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Duopoly Ownership and Local Informational Programming on Broadcast Television: Before-After Comparisons

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Duopoly Ownership and Local Informational Programming on Broadcast Television: Before-After Comparisons

Article excerpt

For decades, the government prohibited companies from owning more than one television station in a single market. In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed this limit and allowed duopoly ownership, i.e., a company owning two stations in a local television market (FCC, 1999). In June 2003, as part of its comprehensive review of the broadcast ownership rules, the FCC further relaxed the local television multiple ownership rule. For example, in markets with 18 or more television stations, a company can own three stations provided that only one of these stations is among the top four ratings (FCC, 2003).

In relaxing the multiple ownership restrictions, the government believed that the public interest benefits resulting from common ownership of local television stations outweighed the threats. Particularly, the FCC assumed that the new rules allowed the commonly owned stations to operate more efficiently by taking advantage of their combined resources, which would lead to the increase of local and public affairs programming in the local market. The federal circuit court in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC (2004) essentially endorsed this view although it remanded the specific numerical limits to the Commission for further consideration. However, much of the evidence regarding the benefits of television joint ownership is anecdotal and provided by broadcasters drawing upon their own experience (FCC, 1999). As far as the authors know, scholarly research examining the effects of common local television ownership on the quantity and quality of local and public affairs programming is rare.

This study examined the relationship between duopoly, and the supply of local news and public affairs programming in the local television market. Using station program data of 1997 and 2003, the study investigated whether stations (particularly the non-top-four-ranked ones)increased their local news and public affairs programming once becoming part of a common ownership. It also investigated whether stations in common ownership aired more such informational programming than comparable stations in the same market or stations from different markets that have no multiple ownership, and whether markets with common ownership stations, as a whole, provided more local news and public affairs programming than those that contain no such ownership structure. The results of the study provide much needed evidence regarding the purported benefits (or the lack thereof) of the current television duopoly rules.

The next section begins with background information about the duopoly rules, followed by a review of previous research that examined the relationship between media ownership structure and television content, followed by research hypotheses and methodology, and, lastly, results and conclusions.

Duopoly Structure and Television Programming

Local television multiple ownership rules limit the number of television stations a company can own. The "duopoly rule," adopted in 1964, prohibited an entity from having cognizable interests in two television stations whose Grade B signal contours overlap (FCC, 1964). The rationale underlying such a rule was that the policy goals of diversity and competition were best ensured with a multiplicity of separately owned media outlets.

Congress passed the Telecommunication Act of 1996 that, among other things, made a number of changes to the media ownership rules. For example, the Act eliminated the restriction on the number of radio stations a single entity can own nationally, and increased the number of radio stations one company can control in a local market. Although the Act did not make changes to the television duopoly rule, Congress directed the FCC to conduct a rulemaking proceeding concerning the retention, modification, or elimination of the duopoly rule. The congressional mandate required the FCC to rewrite the duopoly rule in 1999, the first time in 35 years of its history (FCC, 1999). …

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