Jessell at Large

Encouraging Signs In The JSA-SSA Mess

Over the past few weeks, we have begun to see how the FCC's decision in March to curtail the use of joint sales and shared services agreements is impacting the business.Three groups have proposal three different plans to come into compliance with the new rules. Of them, Nexstar's arrangement with Pluria Marshall is the potential win-win.
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One of the lessons that I have learned along the way is that you never really know what's going to happen when Congress or the FCC begins fiddling around with the laws and regulations that govern the TV business.

My favorite example is retransmission consent. Congress created the right in 1992 to strengthen local broadcasting. But what retrans did was strengthen cable as multimedia companies like NBC, Fox, Hearst and Scripps used it to secure cable carriage for cable networks that siphoned off broadcast viewers in ever larger numbers. It wasn't until pure-play broadcasters like Nexstar and Sinclair began demanding payments in the mid-2000s that retrans began fulfilling its original purpose.

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Over the past few weeks, we have begun to see how the FCC's decision in March to curtail the use of joint sales and shared services agreements is impacting the business. Broadcasters had been using such agreements to set up so-called sidecar companies and in effect operate more stations in markets than the rules explicitly allow.

In adapting to the new reality, Sinclair took the simple approach. It's deal to acquire Allbritton Communications for nearly $1 billion had gotten hung up on the sidecar deals it had set up in three markets — Harrisburg, Pa.; Birmingham, Ala., and Charleston, S.C.

Instead of trying to restructure the sidecars, it decided to strip the ABC programming from the stations it was getting from Allbritton in the three markets and double up on stations it already owned in the markets. As part of the plan, it said it would relinquish the licenses for the Allbritton stations in Birmingham and Charleston.

Meanwhile, to clear the way for its acquisition of Hoak Media, Gray last week sort of followed Sinclair's lead, shifting Big Four network programming off of six stations in five markets — Lincoln, Neb.; Fargo, N.D.; Monroe, La.; Minot, S.D.; and Grand Junction, Colo. — and onto the other stations it owns in the same markets through channel sharing.

But instead of turning the licenses back into the FCC, it hired David Honig of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council to see if he could find buyers. Gray is  asking only for the costs it expects to incur in the selling.

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Gray is essentially giving the stations away with just a couple of stipulations. The buyer must be a "socially disadvantaged" or nonprofit entity and it must operate the stations completely independently of any other in-market stations.

To move along its applications to buy the CCA stations and Grant stations, Nexstar took an entirely different tack. It proposed selling three Fox affiliates — KMSS Shreveport, La.; KPEJ Odessa-Midland, Texas; and KLJB Quad Cities, Iowa — to the Marshall Broadcasting Group for $58.5 million.

With its proposal, Nexstar declared that it isn't giving up on its JSAs and sidecars. It is testing whether the FCC will grant waivers for a sidecar deal if the owner of the sidecar is a bona fide minority with plenty of autonomy.

From all appearance, Marshall is bona fide. It is owned by a publisher of African-American and minority newspapers, Pluria Marshall Jr. That name is familiar to longtime broadcast lobbyists and attorneys in Washington. Marshall's father, Pluria Sr., did battle with the industry there in the 1970s and 1980s. Depending on your point of view, Marshall the elder was either a dedicated civil rights activist trying to increase minority employment and ownership in broadcasting or a hustler who used threats to challenge station applications at the FCC to extort money from broadcasters. I'll just say he was a force to be reckoned with.

Under the Nexstar proposal, Marshall will get the licenses, real estate and facilities of the three stations, but Nexstar will guarantee the loans that Marshall will need to buy and stations and it will provide sales and other "non-programming services" to Marshall through its other stations in the markets. Marshall will get 70% of the sales revenue.

To sweeten the deal, Nexstar and Marshall said Marshall will produce an additional two dozen hours of news and a public affairs program for the three stations.

Of the three deals, Sinclair's is the most surprising. Who turns in TV licenses? Even sticks in Birmingham and Charleston have to be worth something, right?

Not enough apparently for Sinclair to bother about. It might have been making the point that small-market stations without major network affiliations are practically worthless, that their only real value is as sidecars to other stations in the market. It is a point that Sinclair and many other broadcasters tried to make as the FCC was getting ready to drive a spike through SSAs and JSAs last spring.

It made an impression with the Republican minority at the FCC. On the news of Sinclair license abandonments, Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly issued a joint I-told-you-so statement intended for the Democratic majority at the FCC.

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Comments (4) -

dantheflash2011 Nickname posted over 2 years ago
CORRECTION: David Smith is CEO of Sinclair not Nexstar. Get rid of JSA-SSA For Good!
Mark Miller posted over 2 years ago
The Smith reference has been corrected.
HopeUMakeit Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Since my TV job in Houston can almost be directly attributed to the efforts of Pluria Sr, I am going to lean toward civil rights activist. This is also not exactly new. BET and Radio One were formed under very similar circumstances.
metrojoe Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Pluria Marshall Jr borrowed money from the late Frank Melton, a minority tv owner, and never paid back a penny. Melton's family deserves better than Marshall profiting from fronting ownership on this deal. Extortion and ripping others off in the name of minorities is the Marshall legacy. Minorities should be outraged.
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 27, 2016
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    3.0/11
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    1.8/6
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    1.2/4
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    0.9/3
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    0.6/2
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    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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