In this first part of an exclusive two-part interview, David Rehr, the group’s newly installed president, lays out an agenda that puts a target on the back of cable. Tomorrow: Reinventing NAB.
David Rehr assumed the presidency of National Association of Broadcasters last month with a reputation as a combative and indefatigable advocate who knows how to make things fall his way on Capitol Hill. If the reputation is fully deserved, cable may be in trouble.
In an exclusive interview with TVNewsCheck, the 46-year-old former beer lobbyist made clear that he has broadcasting’s old nemesis squarely in his sights.
Rehr says he will be working with the telephone companies to ease their entry into TV distribution and break the “cable monopoly.” And he is mobilizing to do battle with cable to win full must-carry rights for digital broadcast signals, preserve retransmission consent and block cable from degrading the broadcast HD signals they carry.
But it’s not all about cable. Rehr’s legislative and regulatory agenda includes other goals: easing the broadcast ownership rules, restoring the broadcast copyright flag, heading off more onerous indecency restrictions, removing the specter of spectrum taxes and muting demands for free political air time.
The telephone companies want legislation that would allow them to compete with cable throughout the nation without having to win franchises in each and every municipality. They will be more likely to “succeed” if they ally with local TV stations, Rehr says. “It’s a Herculean effort but it would be in the best interest of both our industries to form a partnership.”
Rehr says he has met with US Telecom President Walter McCormick; Tom Tauke, Verizon’s top lobbyist; and CTIA President Steve Largent. The discussions have been preliminary, but the NAB chief sees common ground: “I think everyone gets it that we have to get together and work together.”
NAB’s willingness to back the telcos doesn’t mean they will get a free ride, Rehr says. He insists the telcos must be subject to network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules just like cable and satellite. NAB intends to make sure those requirements are part of any telecom reform bill.
At the FCC, NAB wants the commission to ease its broadcast ownership rules to permit the common ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in more markets and ownership of two TV stations in small markets. “That’s what our board has told us they want,” Rehr says. “I believe that’s what our members need, particularly in smaller markets.”
The Rehr agenda, issue-by-issue:
Push for multicast must-carry legislation. Cable opposition is a given, Rehr says. But once Congress understands that “what we’re asking for is nothing more or nothing less than what we already have,” broadcasters will prevail, he says. Cable has created an impression that “we’re like pigs at the trough here. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once we dispel these alleged arguments, I think their credibility will be greatly diminished.”
Oppose cable efforts to win the right to down-convert local TV stations’ HDTV signals. “Will Congress want to turn back the clock?” Rehr asks. “That’s essentially what cable wants to do here.”
Deflect cable attacks on retransmission consent. According to Rehr, the FCC’s report clearly concludes that retransmission consent is working. “It’s going to be an uphill battle for those people trying to alter retransmission consent.”
Convince Congress to adopt broadcast flag regulations. A federal appeals court overturned the FCC ‘s “broadcast flag” rules that would have required digital TV set manufacturers to install technology to prevent the illegal retransmission of broadcast content over the Internet and other electronic devices. The NAB simply wants Congress to act to “give the FCC the authority to do what they did before,” Rehr says.
Defeat congressional attempts to increase indecency fines. For starters, Rehr thinks the joint efforts of the NAB, NCTA , MPAA, CEA and the Ad Council to help parents monitor their children’s TV viewing will be successful. “It is a common message across all of the media which has never been done before.” Furthermore, he wants the FCC to provide specific guidelines. “If you want to go ahead and define something as decent or indecent, you better tell us where the line is. Broadcasters have no incentive to have indecent programs because a majority of people in America over the long term won’t support them. There’s no money in it.”
Block efforts to impose a spectrum tax. NAB expects the President’s budget will once again contain such a proposal. It is his job to make sure that Congress once again ignores it.
Oppose congressional mandates for free air time for politicians. Rehr points out that elected officials already get a 30% discount. “I think, in the long term, politicians will not want to have a level playing field of free ads. If you are the incumbent, do you really want to give your potential competitor free ads?”
Tomorrow, Rehr Takes Change, Part II: Reinventing the NAB.