The Price Point | NAB Won STELAR On The Ground
Last week’s sunset of STELAR (Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization) was a major victory for the National Association of Broadcasters, state broadcaster associations and television station owners across the country.
For over two decades STELAR was a thorn in broadcasters’ sides. MPVDs used every reauthorization as a political forum to try and roll back retransmission rights. Cynics, such as I, saw last year’s Nexstar and CBS blackouts, which affected most of the country, as lobbying ploys by AT&T.
The pay TV industry’s goal was to add provisions to a STELAR renewal taking away broadcasters’ rights to remove their signals during contract negotiations. Instead, they ended up with new legislation requiring truth in billing fee disclosures (ouch) and a prohibition on charging consumers for some equipment. In return, broadcasters are happy to retain the good faith negotiation rule and allow truckers to keep their satellite TVs.
Broadcasters won STELAR the same way they have won so many other issues, by taking their case directly to Senators and members of Congress in their home districts. The best general managers make a point of meeting with every elected official every time they are in the station. Most of these meetings are simply relationship building, perhaps thanking a member for their support of broadcasting, then outlining exactly what that support means in terms of service to viewers. It goes a long way when a general manager can say: “We were able to warn about that tornado in your district, then cover the aftermath, because retransmission consent helps fund our news department.”
The other not-so-secret weapon broadcasters have is their relationship with viewers. I’ve reminded many a politician that we serve the same constituents. A television station is running for election every day, so we have direct accountability. What viewers say and think matters very much to us. On the other hand, can you imagine a voter going up to a member of Congress and saying: “I just want to tell you how much I love my pay TV provider and all the things they do for me.”
Politicians are smart. They know viewer relationships are a direct pipeline to voters. That’s why candidates will spend millions of dollars on local television advertising this year. They will also spend a smaller amount on cable inter-connects. The difference in dollars speaks to the value they see in each.
Under Gordon Smith’s leadership, the NAB has never been stronger. Threats to both television and radio are quickly identified, strategies determined, forces coordinated. The NAB, state associations and troops on the ground are then unified to achieve the same goals. The upcoming 2020 State Leadership Conference, beginning on Feb. 24 in Washington, is part of the critical glue that holds it all together. Broadcasters who are not signed up should do so immediately.
Finally, about press reports that the end of STELAR may mean loss of service to some viewers. The only thing any viewer will lose is being forced to watch New York or Los Angeles instead of their local stations. DirecTV will now finally provide local service to the entire country. If not, viewers can switch to Dish Network, which already does.
Hank Price is a media consultant, author and speaker. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a handbook for general managers. He spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis. He also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.