Local marketing agreement
In North American broadcasting, a local marketing agreement (LMA), or local management agreement, is a contract in which one company agrees to operate a radio or television station owned by another party. In essence, it is a sort of lease or time-buy.
Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, a local marketing agreement must give the company operating the station (the "senior" partner) under the agreement control over the entire facilities of the station, including the finances, personnel and programming of the station. Its original licensee (the "junior" partner) still remains legally responsible for the station and its operations, such as compliance with relevant regulations regarding content. Occasionally, a "local marketing agreement" may refer to the sharing or contracting of only certain functions, in particular advertising sales. This may also be referred to as a time brokerage agreement (TBA), local sales agreement (LSA), management services agreement (MSA), or most commonly, a joint sales agreement (JSA) or shared services agreement (SSA). JSAs are counted toward ownership caps for television and radio stations. In Canada, local marketing agreements between domestic stations require the consent of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), although Rogers Media has used a similar arrangement to control a U.S.-based radio station in a border market.
The increased use of sharing agreements by media companies to form consolidated, "virtual" duopolies became controversial between 2009 and 2014, especially arrangements where a company buys a television station's facilities and assets, but sells the license to an affiliated third-party "shell" corporation, who then enters into agreements with the owner of the facilities to operate the station on their behalf. Activists have argued that broadcasters were using these agreements as a loophole for the FCC's ownership regulations, that they reduce the number of local media outlets in a market through the aggregation or outright consolidation of news programming, and allow station owners to have increased leverage in the negotiation of retransmission consent with local subscription television providers. Station owners have contended that these sharing agreements allow streamlined, cost-effective operations that may be beneficial to the continued operation of lower-rated and/or financially weaker stations, especially in smaller markets.
In 2014 under chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC began to increase its scrutiny regarding the use of such agreements—particularly joint sales—to evade its policies. On March 31, 2014, the commission voted to make joint sales agreements count as ownership if the senior partner sells 15% or more of advertising time for its partner, and to ban coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between two of the top four stations in a market. Wheeler indicated that he planned to address local marketing and shared services agreements in the future. The change in stance also prompted changes to then-proposed acquisitions by Nexstar Media Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group, who, rather than use sharing agreements to control them, moved their existing programming and network affiliations to digital subchannels of existing company-owned stations in the market, or a low-power station (which are not subject to ownership caps), and then relinquished control over the original stations by selling their licenses to third-parties, such as minority-owned broadcasters.