Sen. Rockefeller calls for GAO study of shared services agreements

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER
Wants GAO study of joint sales and
shared services agreements between
TV stations
Says there are both pitfalls and benefits in SSAs and JSAs

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Virginia) has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request that the office study joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared services agreements (SSAs) between TV stations.

TVNewsCheck reports that the senator, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is concerned that consumers may be adversely affected by such agreements (an example of which is Nexstar's ownership of Evansville ABC affiliate WEHT and management of CW affiliate WTVW, and soon to be WEVV as well, pending FCC OK) through higher retransmission consent fees for cable companies, which of course tend to lead to higher bills for consumers.

"Some stakeholders have voiced concerns that SSAs have become a tool that broadcast ownership groups use to skirt the FCC's existing ownership rules to the detriment of consumers," Rockefeller wrote. "These groups suggests that SSAs, along with other formal and informal business arrangements between stations in a market ... give one station effective control over the operations and business activities of another station in the same market without assuming formal ownership or control of the station's license."

Rockefeller does admit that some see SSAs as having benefits; some "argue that leveraging operational efficiencies can allow stations to devote more resources to newsgathering or local TV program production."

For its part, the American Cable Association, which represents pay-TV companies like WOW!, welcomes Sen. Rockefeller's interest. "ACA looks forward to providing the GAO with evidence we have been collecting for several years showing that Big 4 TV stations that are separately owned are coordinating their retransmission consent negotiations in at least 20% of local TV markets," the ACA wrote. "ACA has documented 48 instances in 43 different markets where Big 4 stations have opted to collude on retransmission consent in an effort to deny consumers competitively determined rates."

We'll see where it goes from here.

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