Duopoly (broadcasting)

Duopoly (broadcasting)

In United States broadcast television and radio, duopoly is a term used to describe a single company which owns two or more stations in the same city or community.

This usage is technically incompatible with the standard definition of the word; in the field of economics, a duopoly refers to a marketplace in which most or all of the supply of a commodity is controlled by only two (comparable) vendors.

This leads to confusion inasmuch as there are generally more than two owners of broadcast television stations in markets with duopolies. Outside the US, the common ownership of two local broadcast stations is therefore more commonly called a "twinstick".


Regulatory issues

In the United States, the practice of duopoly has been frowned upon when using public airwaves, on the premise that it gives too much influence to one company.

Duopolies were normally not allowed to television stations with overlapping coverage areas in the United States before 2001.[1] The Federal Communications Commission currently allows common ownership of two stations in a single market with two conditions:

  • There must be at least eight unique station owners left in the market once a duopoly is formed. In effect, duopolies are not allowed in any market with fewer than nine full-power stations (counting non-commercial stations).
  • Two of the four highest-rated stations in a market cannot be owned by the same person.[2]

There are at least two cases where a company has been accused of having television duopolies where they aren't legally permitted by using shell corporations to control a second station in a market.

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group controls the operations of all six stations owned by Cunningham Broadcasting through local marketing agreements. However, nearly all of Cunningham's stock is held by trusts in the name of Sinclair's founders and owners, the Smith family. In three markets, Cunningham owns the fourth-highest rated station while Sinclair owns one of the three highest-rated stations. In the three other markets, there are too few stations or unique owners to legally permit a duopoly.[3]
  • Malara Broadcasting owns two stations--WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana and KDLH-TV in Duluth, Minnesota. Both stations' operations are controlled by Granite Broadcasting, which owns WISE-TV in Fort Wayne and KBJR-TV in Duluth. Malara files its Securities and Exchange Commission reports jointly with Granite, leading to allegations that Malara is simply a shell for Granite. Neither Fort Wayne nor Duluth have enough stations to legally permit a duopoly.[4] Hubbard Broadcasting, which runs ABC affiliate WDIO/WIRT in Duluth has asked the FCC to look at the arrangement in Duluth, along with a similar agreement in Rochester, Minnesota between NBC affiliate KTTC and Fox station KXLT-TV, both in markets Hubbard owns stations in [5].

Note that the rules governing radio stations are less restrictive than those for TV, allowing as many as six radio and two television stations under common ownership in the largest US markets.[6]

Pittsburgh is rather in a unique situation as far as duopolies are concerned, as the city only has nine full-powered television stations. CBS Corporation has a duopoly with CBS O&O KDKA-TV and CW O&O WPCW, while Sinclair Broadcast Group owns Fox affiliate WPGH-TV and myNetworkTV affiliate WPMY. WQED Multimedia, which owns flagship PBS station WQED & NPR member WQED-FM, also owns WQEX, which currently simulcasts ShopNBC. The station previously operated WQEX as a second PBS station for shows that the main WQED couldn't fit on its own station before funding got tight and WQEX started simulcasting the main WQED feed preparing to sell the station. By request of WQED Multimedia, WQEX had its non-commercial license revoked by the FCC in 2002 so that WQED could possibly sell the station in the future after a failed attempt to sell the station to Cornerstone Television in 1999 that would've also saw Cornerstone sell WPCB-TV to Paxson Communications and move its programming to WQEX directly related to WQEX's then-non-commercial status.

Examples in American television

See also List of television duopolies in the United States

Stations listed are full-power terrestrial broadcasters in the same US market. Bold indicates O&O:

City Station Station Owner
Cleveland WOIO CBS 19 WUAB My 43 Raycom Media
Dayton WKEF ABC 22 WRGT Fox 45 Sinclair-Cunningham
(effectively a Sinclair duopoly in violation of FCC rules)
Detroit WWJ-TV CBS 62 WKBD-TV CW 50 CBS Corporation
Buffalo WUTV Fox 29 WNYO My 49 Sinclair Broadcast Group
Jacksonville WJXX ABC 25 WTLV NBC 12 Gannett
Jacksonville WTEV CBS 47 WAWS Fox 30 Newport Television
Hartford WTNH ABC 8 WCTX My 59 LIN TV
Hartford WCCT CW 20 WTIC Fox 61 Tribune Company
Raleigh-Durham WRAL CBS 5 WRAZ Fox 50 Capitol Broadcasting
Raleigh-Durham WLFL CW 22 WRDC My 28 Sinclair Broadcast Group
Washington, DC WTTG Fox 5 WDCA My 20 Fox Television Stations Group
New Orleans WGNO ABC 26 WNOL CW 38 Tribune Broadcasting
New Orleans WWL-TV CBS 4 WUPL My 54 Belo
Norfolk WAVY NBC 10 WVBT Fox 43 LIN TV
New York City WNYW Fox 5 WWOR My 9 Fox Television Stations Group
Syracuse WNYS My 43 WSYT Fox 68 Sinclair Broadcast Group
Boston WBZ-TV CBS 4 WSBK My 38 CBS Corporation
Boston WHDH NBC 7 WLVI CW 56 Sunbeam Television
Kansas City KMCI Ind. 38 KSHB NBC 41 Scripps-Howard Broadcasting
Kansas City KCTV CBS 5 KSMO My 62 Meredith Corporation
Kansas City KMBC-TV ABC 9 KCWE CW 29 Hearst Television
Minneapolis-St. Paul KSTP ABC 5 KSTC Ind. 45 Hubbard Broadcasting
Minneapolis-St. Paul KMSP Fox 9 WFTC My 29 Fox Television Stations Group
Denver KUSA NBC 9 KTVD My 20 Gannett
Los Angeles KCBS CBS 2 KCAL Ind. 9 CBS Corporation
Los Angeles KNBC NBC 4 KWHY
Spanish Ind. 22
Telemundo 52
NBC Universal
Los Angeles KTTV Fox 11 KCOP My 13 Fox Television Stations Group
Chicago WFLD Fox 32 WPWR My 50 Fox Television Stations Group
Little Rock KLRT Fox 16 KASN CW 38 Newport Television
Duluth KBJR NBC 6 KDLH CBS 3 Granite-Malara
Sacramento KOVR CBS 13 KMAX CW 31 CBS Corporation
Sacramento KCRA NBC 3 KQCA My 58 Hearst-Argyle Television
Phoenix KTVK Ind. 3 KASW CW 61 Belo
Phoenix KSAZ Fox 10 KUTP My 45 Fox Television Stations Group
Pittsburgh KDKA CBS 2 WPCW CW 19 CBS Corporation
Pittsburgh WPGH-TV Fox 53 WPMY My 22 Sinclair Broadcast Group
Pittsburgh WQED PBS 13 WQEX ShopNBC 16 WQED Multimedia
Wichita, Kansas KWCH-DT CBS 12.1 (19) KSCW-DT CW 33.1 (12) Schurz Communications (Failing Station Waiver)

Educational and multicultural broadcasters

A special case is Salt Lake City. The NBC affiliate KSL-TV is owned by Bonneville International, and an educational station, KBYU-TV, is owned by Brigham Young University and carries PBS programming. Bonneville is owned by the Deseret Management Corporation, a for-profit arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; BYU is directly owned by the LDS Church. While Deseret and BYU are separate entities, the fact that both are owned by the LDS Church makes them a duopoly in a sense.

There are also examples of educational interests owning two stations in the same market, such as WNET/WLIW serving Newark/Long Island,[7] WQED/WQEX in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee Public Television's two stations. In some markets (such as Buffalo, New York), secondary public stations are being sold and replaced by digital subchannels within the main station's ATSC signal.

Failed and failing stations

In the US, as in other jurisdictions, it is possible to obtain a "failing station" waiver; effectively a petition that a broadcast regulator (the Federal Communications Commission) exempt a broadcaster from some portion of the existing restrictions on common ownership in order to acquire and operate a station which otherwise would be economically non-viable or would be forced to cease operations.

Requests for failing station waivers have historically met with variable reception; in general, a prospective buyer is on the same wavelength with the FCC on failing-station policies if it can demonstrate to the Commission that:

  • The failing station consistently received less than 4% of all local all-day audience share,
  • The station is in poor financial condition, normally operating at a loss for at least the previous three years,
  • The merger will produce public interest benefits, and
  • The in-market buyer is the only suitable candidate as a sale to an out-of-market buyer would result in an artificially depressed price.[8]

Waivers under these criteria were granted to sell WASV-TV (UHF 62, UPN Asheville) to Media General's WSPA-TV[9] and KWBA (CW Tucson) to the Journal Broadcast Corporation's KGUN-TV.[10][11] A similar waiver was refused to KNIN-TV (CW Boise) as the station appeared to have reasonable prospects of financial break-even without a takeover by Journal-owned KIVI-TV;[12] that decision was subsequently appealed.

Local marketing agreements

Where there are two different owners listed, one station owner controls another station, called a local marketing agreement. Owner "A" doesn't own station "B", they just operate it for owner "B" - effectively renting all of a station's airtime and using it to run their own programming.

One notable example is Cunningham Broadcasting, which holds licences for a group of six television stations, all of which are operated by Sinclair Broadcasting under local marketing agreements in communities in which Sinclair already is at the limit for concentration of media ownership.

Clear Channel Communications subsidiary Citicasters was fined $25000 on February 12, 2001[13] for use of time brokerage agreements and litigation[14] to unlawfully control WBTJ FM 101.9 in the Youngstown, Ohio market; the company had also been the target of complaints for using KFJO FM to rebroadcast KSJO after it had nominally sold KFJO to minority-owned interests.[15]

In some cases, the use of an adjacent-market city of license has been used on a secondary station to avoid a limit on the number of stations controlled by the same broadcaster in the same market. Occasionally, those arrangements cross international borders. For instance, radio station WLYK in Cape Vincent, New York in the United States is operated from the Canadian studios of Kingston, Ontario's CIKR-FM, a broadcaster already at the two-station limit in its own market, under an LMA.[16] Broadcasters such as Entravision have often entered local marketing agreements with Mexican border stations (such as Tijuana's XETV for content directed at San Diego).

Other names to what is essentially a local marketing agreement can be used. In late 2007, New Vision Television, which had just acquired CBS affiliate WKBN-TV and low-powered Fox affiliate WYFX-LP in Youngstown, Ohio, entered into a shared services agreement with Parkin Broadcasting over its own recent acquisition, ABC affiliate WYTV. Despite Youngstown's small market size (ranked #108 by Nielsen Media Research as of 2009), New Vision effectively controls all Youngstown-area TV stations except NBC affiliate WFMJ-TV and Western Reserve Public Media. While legally considered a "shared services" agreement, by practice it is a local marketing agreement.

On March 2, 2009, Barrington Broadcasting and Granite Broadcasting Corporation reached shared services and joint sales agreements in markets where both companies owned stations, meaning the owner of Station "A" not only operates a station for owner "B" but provides advertising sales for both stations. The agreements placed Barrignton-owned WHOI in Peoria, Illinois under the control of Granite station WEEK-TV, while at the same time placing Granite-owned WTVH in Syracuse, New York under the control of Barrington-owned competitor WTVH; the Syracuse move effectively leaves Barrington in control of three Syracuse TV stations as it is also the proprietor of low-power TV station WSTQ.

Triopoly and quadropoly

NBC Universal owns three full-power stations in Los Angeles; one NBC, one Telemundo and a Spanish language independent.[17] Los Angeles and San Francisco are the only two US markets which can have a full-power triopoly (three stations) as the FCC allows common ownership if 18 television stations are in the market.[18]

In Canada, at least one community (Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec) has all three of its local French language stations, CKRT-TV, CIMT-TV and CFTF-TV, under common ownership, however such levels of common ownership are for the most part strongly discouraged unless the stations serve remote communities or are operated in different languages.

In Mexico, media concentration is endemic and it is not uncommon for as many as four stations to be operated by one entity. Televisa owns four Mexico City stations (2459) while TV Azteca, México's second-largest broadcaster, owns three (71340). These broadcasts in turn feed large numbers of full-power affiliates. The largest Mexican network is Canal de las Estrellas which feeds more than one hundred stations nationwide.

No television quadropolies exist in Canada (see twinstick); in the United States quadropolies can be constructed using low-power TV stations.

Low-power TV stations

A company may own several stations in a US television market, or multiple stations where they would not normally be allowed, provided that one or more of the stations is licensed as low power (-LP or -CA) or low power digital (-LD or -CD).

UHF LPTV stations in the United States may transmit up to 15kW digital or 150kW analogue. There is no limit on the number of LPTV stations that may be owned by any one entity, no prescribed amounts of non-entertainment programming or local programming, no limits on commercials and no minimum hours of operation.[19]

For instance, on southern Lake Michigan, Weigel Broadcasting maintains triopolies in three markets (Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and South Bend, Indiana) using low power television stations. In Chicago, it maintains one full power signal (independent WCIU) and two low-power stations (classic TV channels WWME-CA and WMEU-CA). In Milwaukee, Weigel has two full power stations (CBS affiliate WDJT-TV and classic TV channel WBME-TV) and two low-power stations (independent WMLW-CA and WYTU-LD, a Telemundo affiliate). Weigel also takes advantage of digital subchannel broadcasting heavily and airs their This TV network in both markets, along with time share agreements on other subchannels with ethnic broadcasters, and in Milwaukee, a local real estate group to air programming, along with a Telemundo subchannel.

The South Bend low-power TV triopoly (ABC affiliate WBND-LP, CW station WCWW-LP and MyNetworkTV's WMYS-LP) was to be sold to Schurz Communications, owners of full power WSBT-TV. If it had been approved, it would have created a US broadcast television quadropoly.[20] However in mid-2009 Shurz and Weigel canceled the sale due to FCC inaction and subsequent criticism from local groups.

A similar situation exists in Lima, Ohio, where the owners of full-power NBC affiliate WLIO have filed to purchase three low-power network affiliated stations (Fox affiliate WOHL-CA, CBS affiliate WLMO-LP and ABC affiliate WLQP-LP), as part of a four-station proposed purchase.[21] The quadropoly, if approved, would make the group the sole over-air provider of secular network television programming in the Lima market, though area cable systems also carry out of town affiliates from Toledo, Columbus, and Dayton. As of late 2009, it has since been approved.

A quadropoly already exists in McAllen, Texas, where Entravision carries four networks (Univisión, Telefutura, Fox, CW) by using a full-power station (KNVO-TV "nuevo 48") with its four digital subchannels, simulcast onto a pair of analogue LPTV stations and (under an LMA) Mexican broadcaster XHRIO-TV.[22] Similarly in Laredo, Texas, Entravision operates a triopoly as owner of full-service KLDO-TV and Class A stations KETF-CA and KXOF-CA.

In metropolitan Watertown, New York, two of the four largest local network affiliates (CBS and Fox) are operated from the same studios by the same owners. This is permitted only because the Fox station is a low-powered Class A; the Federal Communications Commission does not allow common ownership of two of the four top-rated full-power stations in any US market, regardless of size.

Low power stations are exempt from the FCC's common ownership restrictions as their over-the-air signals do not reach as many homes as regular stations. In high-penetration cable areas, this distinction is essentially meaningless. LPTV stations are also exempt from digital television transition requirements imposed on full-service broadcasters.[23]

Often, the limitations of using LPTV are circumvented by combining an LPTV station and a digital subchannel of a commonly-owned full-power station alongside a cable-only HDTV channel which simulcasts the signal of the lower-powered affiliate. While cable operators are not legally required to carry the low-power TV stations, a station may request as a condition of cable retransmission consent for their main signal that their compensation include the cable carriage of commonly-owned subchannels and LPTV stations.[24]

Digital multicasting and cable television

Many CW Plus stations, originally created by The WB as cable-only channels, are being sold to existing local terrestrial broadcasters. While cable-only (or LPTV) in their original analogue format, these now represent a simple way for full-power stations to fill empty digital subchannels on their main transmitters.

The use of subchannels has been termed an "instant duopoly" because of the ease by which a single digital station can deliver multiple channels of programming from different networks into the same market at the same time. One station can carry four or more standard definition digital channels. (Multiple HDTV feeds are typically too large to be carried on different subchannels of the same station simultaneously without loss of image quality.)

One possible approach is to use one full-power station, one or more low-power analogue stations and one or more low-power digital stations in the same market, with the low-power digital carrying the extra HDTV channels. For instance, one station could (in any size market) own two of the top four stations and operate both in HDTV as:

Network Analogue DTV HDTV Cable TV
CBS full-power analogue (until 2009) full-power digital HDTV Any combination of analogue, digital SDTV or HDTV delivered directly to cable head-end.
Fox low-power analogue SDTV as subchannel of full-power station HDTV on low-power (15 kW) digital station[25] Any combination of analogue, digital SDTV or HDTV delivered directly to cable head-end.

In theory, this mix of LPTV, digital TV and full-service TV could be taken to the extreme of one broadcaster joining every one of the four largest US commercial television networks and using a set of nine channels in the same market to deliver:

  • Four full-power standard-definition digital subchannels from one main station
  • The same content on low-power analogue, using four LPTV stations
  • Four channels of low-power digital television, all HDTV, using four more low-power -LD or -CD stations

A nominally-unlimited number of additional analogue or digital LPTV stations could be then added as broadcast translators to extend the signal as needed. Cable or satellite could also be added to the mix, as the limits on market concentration apply to local terrestrial full-power stations only. Effectively, were such a simulcast constructed, one broadcaster could control an entire local television market.

LPTV simulcasting

In some markets, multiple LPTV operations are operated in a simulcast (or trimulcast, in the case where three stations deliver the same signal to different parts of the same market) to provide coverage rivalling one full-power station. WBGN-LP, for instance, simulcasts using nine LPTV television stations located throughout the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area in order to get full-power sized coverage with only a combination of Class A and LPTV licenses and signals, each individually covering a small portion of the larger market area.[26]


  1. ^ FCC grant of request for waiver of the duopoly rule for WCAU-TV (Philadelphia) / WNBC (New York City), July 25, 1995
  2. ^ The Business of News: A challenge for journalism's next generation, Cynthia Gorney, Carnegie Corporation of New York
  3. ^ Family's TV Clout in Bush's Corner, Howard Kurtz and Frank Ahrens, Washington Post, October 12, 2004, Page A1
  4. ^ Fort Wayne left stunned by media merger 10 months in the making, Michael Summers, Fort Wayne Reader 2005-03-21
  5. ^ http://www.tvnewscheck.com/articles/2010/07/13/daily.6/
  6. ^ FCC revices local television ownership rules, US Federal Communications Commission, August 5, 1999
  7. ^ WNET/WLIW announcement of new production facility and TV studio on Lincoln Centre campus
  8. ^ FCC application to assign the license for KNIN-TV (CW 9 Caldwell, Idaho) to Journal Broadcast Corp (KIVI-TV)
  9. ^ FCC application for assignment of WASV-TV, Asheville, North Carolina, Jan 15, 2002
  10. ^ Epic fail: FCC gives Tucson a "failing station" TV duopoly, ArsTechica, Matthew Lasar, June 03, 2008
  11. ^ FCC green lights sale of KWBA to KGUN owner, David Hatfield, Inside Tucson Business, June 06, 2008
  12. ^ Radio Business Report, Journal Boise duop dropped, November 9, 2008
  13. ^ In the Matter of Citicasters Co. File No. 00-IH-0283 NAL/Acct. No. 200132080019/MG NOTICE OF APPARENT LIABILITY FOR FORFEITURE, US Federal Communications Commission, 2001
  14. ^ Citicasters vs. WBTJ (Stop 26) Youngstown, Ohio
  15. ^ A 2005 media-alliance.org petition to deny renewal of KSJO's FM license cites Biggest Radio Mogul Bending Rides to Get Bigger? B. Kava, San Jose Mercury News, May 8, 2001 to claim a KSJO FM simulcast on KFJO was used to exceed FCC limits on FM stations under common control.
  16. ^ 102.7 The Lake WLYK
  17. ^ FCC decision on transfer of existing Telemundo O&O stations to NBC-Telemundo's TN Acquisition Corp, 2002
  18. ^ http://money.cnn.com/2003/06/02/news/companies/fcc_rules/
  19. ^ FCC consumer facts: Low Power television service
  20. ^ Weigel Broadcasting to sell 3 Indiana TV stations to Schurz, Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune, August 05, 2008
  21. ^ "Phipps flips Lima low-power cluster". Television Business Report. November 29, 2008. http://www.rbr.com/tv-cable/tv_deals/11550.html. Retrieved January 4, 2009. 
  22. ^ XHRIO: About Fox RIO2
  23. ^ http://www.dtv2009.gov/lowpower
  24. ^ FCC factsheet on cable retransmission consent
  25. ^ WWNY-TV.net DTV Basics
  26. ^ WBGN.com: Broadcast and coverage

See also

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