ABC, NBC ax engineers’ breakfasts at NAB

Apr 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Just when a lot of people thought the unprecedented gap between the major networks and their affiliates couldn’t get any wider, it did last week when ABC and NBC said they would not host representatives of their affiliates attending the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas next week.
The stated reasons differed. ABC attributed the cancellation of its engineers’ breakfast to local stations’ lack of interest in the breakfast and the convention. “It’s not NASA-related,” said an executive at ABC, referring to the petition in which the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate a range of network practices.
The day before, NBC had notified its affiliates that it was pulling out of its engineers’ breakfast and, more significantly, a meeting with the NBC affiliate board of directors scheduled for Monday, April 23, because NAB had decided to support affiliates in their fight to keep the lid on the reach of TV stations owned by networks.
The only networks still planning to pick up the tab for traditional engineers’ breakfasts were CBS and Fox, and both these networks, like NBC, have resigned from NAB over the ownership cap and related issues.
Fox is expecting its digital symposium breakfast, presided over by Andy Setos, senior vice president for network operations, to be “extremely well attended,” said a network spokesman.
The CBS breakfast, presided over by Bob Ross, CBS senior vice president, broadcast, “is a long-standing practice … and it will continue as a way of talking to our affiliates,” said a spokesman for CBS, which was so upset about its affiliates board having signed off on the NASA filing it canceled its annual affiliates convention and declared it would not deal with the board.
“The NASA filing is relevant to every conversation we have these days,” said Jack Sander, executive vice president of media operations for Belo and chairman of the NBC affiliate board, which was scheduled to convene via phone Friday to discuss the agenda for the networkless board meeting at NAB.
Among the prickliest subjects on the agenda was to have been whether NBC would insist on live coverage of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in February or allow stations in the Pacific time zone to carry some of the events on tape delay.
“I can argue both sides of the issue,” Mr. Sander said. “I certainly support live sporting events. By the same token, I’m not certain that live to all time zones is a service to all those communities.
“If you were going to maximize dollars,” said Mr. Sander, “you would want San Diego and Los Angeles to be [seen] in prime time. I think if it were a pure money issue, you would go to tape delay.
“My only position has been to have a full discussion.”
Mr. Sander said that even without the presence of NBC executives, he thinks the board meeting will have “a respectable turnout”-much of it from station representatives flying in for the meeting only and then flying home without attending the convention itself-but he said the cancellation of the breakfast is “unfortunate” because “there are a lot of important engineering decisions that need to be made as we go forward in the digital world.”
The NASA filing, Mr. Sander said, “was the right thing to do.”
As for the growing gulf between the networks and their affiliates, he said, “We have to build back the relationship one brick at a time.”