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Nets Eye Trade Group

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Challenging the National Association of Broadcasters’ role as the television industry’s official spokesman in Washington, the broadcast TV networks are planning to launch a new industry trade association to represent the interests of their more 100 local TV stations.
Under the plan, according to a well-placed industry source, the new organization, would compete with NAB, ensuring that the network owned-and-operated stations have a voice in the nation’s capital.
Also under the plan, the organization, which has yet to be named, would be permanent. While its membership pool would initially consist of network O&Os, nonnetwork-owned stations may eventually be invited to join. A source said a date and time had been set for the new organization’s first conference call.
NAB has traditionally claimed to represent the interests of all local TV stations, including ones owned and operated by the networks.
But over the past several years, the Big 4 TV networks have dropped their NAB memberships in a dispute over deregulation.
ABC is the latest to drop out, announcing its resignation last week, chiefly in a dispute over the Federal Communications Commission’s national cap on station ownership.
ABC and the other major broadcast networks have been lobbying to raise the cap to allow them to buy more TV stations. The NAB, under orders from its affiliate-dominated board, has been fighting to keep the cap in place to bar broadcasters from acquiring TV stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes.
In a letter last week to NAB chief Eddie Fritts, Preston Padden, executive VP for ABC parent The Walt Disney Co., said ABC had stayed on board for almost two years longer than the other networks in hopes that the organization would drop the issue.
“We have now abandoned that hope,” Mr. Padden said, accusing the affiliates of using the NAB as a “weapon in their jihad” against the networks. “For two years, we have endured (and helped pay for) a nonstop stream of network-bashing letters, lobbying and legal filing,” Mr. Padden said. “The NAB and public policy process in Washington should not be abused to advance the business interests of one broadcaster over another.”
Mr. Padden noted that the association has been lobbying for deregulation supported by the affiliates, including duopoly and newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions. “Disney/ABC has gone the extra mile (and then some) to try to salvage the unity previously represented by the NAB,” Mr. Padden said. “We can try no more. With genuine sorrow, we hereby resign all of our stations and networks from membership in the NAB.”
Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said the association regrets ABC’s decision but does not feel its effectiveness will be undermined. “With the loss of ABC, NAB will still have more than 7,400 local radio and TV stations in membership, along with the Pax TV network,” Mr. Wharton said. “NAB’s effectiveness has always been based on having local radio and TV broadcasters in every city and congressional district in America. That will not change as a result of the ABC announcement.”