Networks, Affiliates Reach Agreement in Long-Simmering Dispute

Jun 8, 2008  •  Post A Comment

A volatile chapter in the history of network-affiliate relations will be closed June 9 when representatives of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and local stations submit to the Federal Communications Commission a quietly negotiated agreement that would eliminate the need for FCC involvement in key areas of the network-affiliate relationship.
Chief among the points clarified and accepted: That stations have the unencumbered right to reject or preempt network programming without fear of reprisal because they are the government-licensed arbiters of community standards and community interest; and the option time rule, which prohibits a station from giving away (or being forced to give away) programming time to another party, even if that other party is the network. The latter issue had come to a head with the development of stations’ secondary digital channels.
People familiar with the agreement expect it to be easily ratified by the FCC, because it is an open document that acknowledges existing rules, is in the public interest and takes some once-divisive issues off the FCC table once and for all. The original petition from the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA), which the FCC has never ruled on, will be withdrawn.
This collaborative action is, they said, a win-win-win situation for all involved, including the FCC, which will be freed from the need to referee what was once a major area of contention. For broadcasters, less FCC involvement is always regarded as better. In coming to their own agreement, they have taken their fate, in some key areas, out of the FCC’s hands.
“It is a good day for broadcast television that the networks and affiliates have been able to resolve their differences on these rules in a mutually satisfactory way,” Wade Hargrove, the North Carolina-based attorney who is counsel to the ABC affiliates advisory board and was involved in the 2001 NASA petition filing, said in a statement to TelevisionWeek.
The discussions that led to the agreement also reminded the networks and the stations that they are in business together and have more in common than not.
In March 2001, that sense of commonality was blown to smithereens when the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, representing some 600 local stations, petitioned the FCC to investigate a laundry list of what it alleged were widespread abuses and illegal practices by the networks. At the top of the list were pressures not to preempt network programming and questions about the control over local stations’ digital spectrum and whether network affiliation could be transferred to a new station owner.
The networks, which denied the charges, felt they’d been ambushed by the filing. Affiliates felt they had been forced into the dramatic action.
While the war of words and filings raged, some networks canceled affiliate conventions, gatherings generally regarded as a time for cheerleading and looking forward. CBS became the third network to resign from the National Association of Broadcasters, the local broadcasters’ chief lobbying group. Fox and NBC had resigned in 2000 from the NAB, which opposed raising the station ownership cap. ABC resigned two years later but rejoined the NAB in 2005. NBC rejoined in 2007.
In 2005, NASA revised its filing with the FCC, saying it wanted to cement the principles so there would be no chance of having to go through anything like the 2001 maelstrom again.
By then, the networks had been brought into compliance on some issues through direct negotiation. Some questions, such as the sale of an affiliate and the retention of affiliate status, were being dealt with in individual affiliation agreements.
Essentially, the agreement being submitted to the FCC today affirms that the affiliates are the licensee and they have to retain control over programming and operations.
“The affiliates are pleased that we have all reaffirmed the guiding principle of our relationship with the networks and reaffirmed the principle of licensee responsibility,” Post-Newsweek Stations President Alan Frank, one of the drivers of the 2001 NASA petition, said in a statement to TelevisionWeek. “We think this makes broadcasters stronger going forward and better able to serve the public.”
People familiar with the process by which the networks and affiliates came together said it began in the summer of 2007, when Tony Vinciquerra, president-CEO of Fox Networks Group, reached out to key executives in station groups and affiliate bodies.
While the agreement being submitted to the FCC today doesn’t break any new ground on paper, this stipulation of the rules is considered significant by some because it represents the first time that station groups and networks have come up with an agreement on significant principles without someone holding a gun to either side’s head.
“Any time you get the government involved in business relationships, it’s a double-edged sword. You just never know where it’s going to go, because the government is trying to play three sides, trying to come up with a solution between the two fractious business partners and also trying to accomplish some public policy agenda, which who knows what that is,” Mr. Vinciquerra said in a statement to TelevisionWeek.


  1. and this is good for the consumer how?

  2. Walt, I fully agree. Take The last few nights of Severe WX in NW Ohio. My local comunity was not effected, but I had to sit through “fringe area” reports of bad WX. I finally called the offending staion to see if they were going to go BACK TO PROGRAMMING. I then called the cable company (Buckeye, the local family mob run, company owning cable, newspaper, and TV stations). They have no intentions to carry the stations 55 miles away, Detroit that clone networks programming. For example WTOL and WWJ, both CBS. WTOL local, WWJ the clone.
    Breaking away from programming for ridiculous reasons, or even minor reasons is not acceptable. 3 times in 2 weeks for all night weather reports is awful! If I want drama, I should have the chance to pick a PROGRAM, not a newscast, all night long, like CNN!
    This agreement is not involving the viewer, I have issues with that!

  3. dont ask me

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