Broadcasters will be allowed to combine with a newspaper in the same market, and could be allowed to own two of the top four stations in a city, as the FCC on Thursday relaxed a series of long-standing media ownership regulations.
The new rules, passed in a 3-2 vote, may be challenged in court, but if they survive, they will mark the most significant changes to media ownership regulations in a generation. They could lead to further consolidation and mergers among broadcasters, who have long argued that they need greater scale to compete with cable and internet companies for local ad dollars.
“The media ownership regulations of 2017 should match the media marketplace of 2017,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. He said the agency was “dragging the broadcast rules into the digital age.” Pai added that the changes are needed, given current consumer habits, as people get their news not just from local stations, but from websites, podcasts, and social media.
The changes are taking place just as the FCC is considering whether to allow Sinclair Broadcast Group to merge with Tribune Media, creating a station group powerhouse with control over 233 stations and a reach of 72% of the country.