Donated “Zombie” Licenses May Benefit Public TV

Zombie hand coming out of his grave from TV

© Nomadsoul1 / Depositphotos

Looking for something more cheerful than anything going on in Washington right now? Then let’s talk about zombies. That’s what Scott Fybush at Current did yesterday, writing an extensive article about donations of commercial TV licenses that turned into “zombies” after their owners cashed out the value of their spectrum.

Those donated licenses are just low-power commercial digital TV, and their public broadcasting recipients – WGBH Boston, WNET New York, and WPBT Miami – are still deciding what to do with them. Meanwhile, their previous owners, who had sold their spectrum rights in the FCC auction earlier this year, get a tax write-off.

Fybush wrote that the FCC called these licenses “zombies” because, although they aren’t in active use, they can be resurrected if another broadcaster is willing to lend some of its own channel capacity to get them back on the air. Since they’re commercial licenses, the public stations could use them for commercial side projects, such as ATSC 3.0 sandboxes. Piggybacking on strong, existing UHF public TV channels could give the former low-power stations a wider reach than they ever had in their first lives.

It’s all a lot more complicated than I want to recap here, so you really ought to go over to Current and go read it!