Working together under the aegis of the NAB, networks and affiliates may have derailed the effort to undermine retransmission rights.
Broadcasters won’t be happy when Republican Charles Bass’ (N.H.) attacks their retransmission consent rights during today’s House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee hearing.
But they won’t be caught off guard either. Because behind the scenes NAB and network lobbyists have been telling their side of the story.
Those efforts appear to be paying off. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the parent Energy and Commerce Committee, yesterday told reporters that an anti-retrans amendment backed by Bass and Congressman Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) doesn’t have the votes to pass. Moreover, Barton indicated he would suggest Deal drop the amendment.
The subcommittee is considering legislation (which Barton says will become law this year) that doesn’t address retrans. It is a telecom measure that, among other things, would create a national franchise so telcos could entry the video business more quickly and compete against cable and satellite TV. Deal and Bass were expected to attach an anti-retrans amendment during a full committee mark up after the Easter recess.
To derail the anti-retrans efforts, NAB convened an industry-wide strategy session last week bringing together the networks and their affiliate members. The industry would present a unified front against the American Cable Association, the trade group that managed to get Deal and Bass all worked up on the matter.
“It was a meeting where there was significant unanimity among all broadcasters and that’s good,” says Allbritton executive Jerald Fritz, who is to testify on retrans on behalf of NAB and his station group at today’s subcommittee hearing.
The broadcast lobbyists went to work this week. On Monday, they hosted an informal luncheon for Commerce Committee staffers in the Rayburn House office building and explained all the good things that flow from retrans and they visited the offices of key lawmakers.
Disney’s top lobbyist Preston Padden blasted an e-mail to the lawmakers titled “Disney Urges A ‘NO’ Vote On Amendments To Be Offered By Congressman Deal Regarding Retransmission Consent.”
That provoked an e-mail response from ACA President Matt Polka, which, in trying to portray Disney as a big, bad broadcaster, asserted that its ABC stations had a 65% share of TV viewers and “large ownership stakes in Hearst-Argyle Communications.”
Whoops. Polka is a bit confused here. ABC has a 65% market share only in Bob Iger’s dreams and, of course, Disney has no ownership interest in Hearst-Argyle.
But Polka isn’t deterred by the facts. An e-mail he sent me promises clarification but also maintains: “Our point was, despite Disney’s claims of being such a small broadcaster with only 10 stations, they are nothing of the sort. Seems to me like Disney is nit-picking to hold onto its retran gravy-train.”
We’ll be hearing more “nit-picking” at today’s hearing and in the weeks that follow.
Given Barton’s comment yesterday, it seems that retrans won’t get a ride on the telecom bill. If so, the anti-retrans forces will look for another vehicle. This issue is unlikely to go away.
In any event, broadcasters should be cheered by the fact that affiliates and network were once again working together under the aegis of the NAB. It’s only a single issue, but it could lead to closer cooperation between the affiliates of NAB and the three networks that abandoned the association over past differences—CBS, NBC and Fox.
“I would love to see the networks back at NAB, “Fritz told me. “But that’s just one broadcaster.”