NAB wants out of affiliate-net tug of war

Apr 2, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a last-ditch effort to defuse the escalating conflict between its network and affiliate members, the National Association of Broadcasters is planning to convene a special meeting of its board within the next few weeks to discuss the association’s future.

Topping the agenda, according to one well-placed source: whether NAB, in the interests of industry unity, should adopt a policy of sitting out fights that divide networks and their affiliates.

ABC and CBS are now threatening to leave the association if the NAB’s affiliate-dominated TV board forces the association to lobby for a recent affiliate request for a federal investigation of alleged abuses by the networks of their station partners.

The networks and their affiliates are already at each other’s throats because the TV board forced the NAB to lobby against a network campaign to kill the Federal Communications Commission’s TV cap, which bars broadcasters from owning stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes.

In fact, Fox and NBC bailed out of the association after the NAB started lobbying against them on the issue.

At least some sources said the fact that the NAB has decided to bring its whole board into the discussion is a win for the networks because the association’s 30 radio board members are generally perceived as more sympathetic to the networks than NAB’s 19 TV board members.

But a well-placed source said the NAB’s radio board should be included at the table because ABC and CBS are major radio station owners.

Said Preston Padden, Walt Disney Co. executive vice president, government relations, “Someday the fight over the ownership cap will be over, and it’s important that the NAB remain broadly representative of the industry. We will be a force for conciliation, but we believe that institutionally it would be wrong for the NAB to lobby against its own members.”

Also last week, Viacom won a small public relations victory when the NAB refused an affiliate request that the association fight the company’s effort to get a court to stay an FCC order requiring it to divest enough of its TV stations from its CBS acquisition to bring it under the 35 percent cap. Filings were due in the court March 30.

Ben Tucker, NAB TV board chairman and president of Fisher Broadcasting, said the association had decided to punt in part because the affiliates were expected to oppose Viacom’s request on their own.

He also said NAB had scheduled a teleconference for May 7 to explain that to the association’s TV board.