The Federal Communications Commissions has essentially dropped its controversial proposal to lift restrictions on network ownership and sale of television programs, according to FCC commissioners speaking at the National Association of Television Programming Executives convention here.
The proposals "have been placed on the back burner for a very, very long time," said FCC Commissioner James Quello.
"It's definitely on the back burner," said Dennis Patrick, another FCC commissioner speaking at a panel discussion on the regulatory environment for the broadcast industry. FCC Commissioner Henry Rivera concurred.
The 1970 FCC financial interest and syndication regulations effectively prevent the three major networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- from owning and selling the programs they broadcast, a market now estimated at nearly $1.2 billion.
Under the guidance of Chairman Mark S. Fowler, the FCC had proposed in 1983 to relax those restrictions, but the move met with stiff resistance from Hollywood studios, who feared a rise in network buying power, and from key members of Congress.
Several efforts at forging a compromise between the networks and movie studios failed and, last April, Fowler said the issue would be deferred until "after 1984." The commission has not formally commented on the status of financial interest and syndication rules since then.
The complexion of the debate, though, has radically change since the FCC adopted a compromise rule in December that changes the structure of television station ownership. The FCC changed the long-standing "7-7-7" rule that limited the number of radio and television stations any one owner may hold. The rule was designed to promote diversity of media ownership.
The new rule allows single owners to hold up to 12 television stations, 12 AM radio stations and 12 FM radio stations so long as the television stations reach no more than one-quarter of the total national viewing audience.
The purpose of this compromise was to limit the number of stations the three networks could actually own while encouraging formation of large, independent television station groups that could afford to compete with the networks for programming.
Now, says Patrick, the FCC will "sit back and monitor" the impact of the new ownership rule before reconsidering repeal of the financial interest and syndication regulations.