FCC POISED TO LOOK AT AD CONCENTRATION IN RADIO MARKETS

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The Federal Communications Commission has opened a required review of its broadcasting ownership rules, with surprise suggestions from several commissioners that marketplace ad concentration issues as well as the expected diversity-in-speech issues may be a focus.

"I note the commission's finding that control by the top four radio group owners over total radio advertising dollars in markets across the country has gone from 80% in 1996 to a whopping 90% in 1997," said Commissioner Susan Ness. "In just one year, the other stations in those markets . . . have seen their combined market share cut in half.

"How are smaller stations able to compete?" Ms. Ness asked.

Commissioner Gloria Tristani also noted that advertising concentration is a concern.

WIDE-RANGING REVIEW

The FCC review, now required every two years, will examine restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers, cable and broadcast stations in a single market; limitations on the number of radio stations a company can own in a single market; restrictions on the number of networks any one company can own; and both the limits and the current procedures for determining the maximum allowable audience reach nationally of a single TV owner.

Reviews already under way at the FCC are examining current rules limiting a company from owning TV stations with overlapping signals and one-to-a-market rules on TV and radio station ownership in a single market.

The Justice Department earlier stepped strongly into the radio issue, taking the stand that concentration of more than 40% of the media dollars in any one company in a market warrants its close attention. Justice also is expected to step into TV with a decision on a Columbus, Ohio, combination shortly.

SEPARATE DUTY

FCC Chairman William Kennard and several members said the agency has a separate duty to look into issues beyond competition and into the importance of retaining a variety of voices in a community.

Ms. Ness, however, said the competition issue also needs to be examined closely, and she noted that the Justice Department review only looked at stations changing hands and at what might happen. She indicated the FCC will look at the effect of existing concentration and what happens after stations are sold.

"If you go from 80% to 90% concentration, can the rest of the players survive in a meaningful way?" she asked. "We have an affirmative responsibility [to see there is competition]. They look at it differently."

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