Dennis Wharton is exiting his post as chief spokesman and communications strategist for the National Association of Broadcasters at the end of June after 24 years, the longest such tenure in the group’s history. In a previous life, Wharton covered Washington as the D.C. bureau chief for Variety.
As 1Q earnings come to a close, it’s clear that 2020 will no longer be a year of double-digit ad growth driven by record political spending. On the plus side, local TV has proved once more that the business is fundamentally sound and resilient. Also, Dennis Wharton has had enough.
The association’s EVP of communications will leave July 1 after 24 years. NAB will merge the association’s communications and marketing departments into a new Public Affairs Department that will be led by NAB’s Michelle Lehman who has tapped Ann Marie Cumming, currently SVP of communications, to serve as the organization’s primary spokesperson.
With the FCC’s broadcast incentive auctions officially in the books, the extensive channel repacking process begins. But the NAB warns changes are needed to avoid broadcasters being forced off the air. Spokesman Dennis Wharton: “Right now as written, if we’re not done in 39 months, any TV station which has not made the transition has to turn in its license and go out of business. I think that’s just absurd in terms of the impact on consumers.”
NAB is pressing Congress for more time and money for broadcasters to move to new channels following the spectrum incentive auction this spring, but key policymakers are signaling that such relief will not come, if it comes at all, until after the incentive auction when the full dimensions of band repacking are better known.
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton: “Programming impasses are exceedingly rare, and those that occur are the result of bad actor pay-TV operators trying to game the system.”
Station owners have been active in the FCC rule-writing proceeding for next year’s spectrum auction, arguing for changes that could add billions of dollars to the bottom lines of broadcasters that opt to sell. At the top of the industry’s hit list is the FCC’s dynamic reserve pricing plan, which broadcasters believe will depress spectrum prices. At the same time, broadcasters are pushing for higher opening bids, figuring the higher they are, the higher the final take for broadcasters will be.
NAB’s Dennis Wharton: “It’s been apparent for years that there is a concerted effort by broadcasting’s primary competitors to eliminate local TV as a competitive threat to their nirvana world — a world where “free” is eliminated from the telecommunications lexicon and programming content is only made available to those who will pay for it. In their world, the highest and best use of spectrum is used only by those who charge a fee for delivering content. But only of late have we been confronted with the bald-faced falsehood that ‘localism is a myth.’ ”
The association says the report which said cable was the top regular source of election news should win the “Fuzzy Math Prize of the Year.”
The association says that since the cable operator reported a fourth quarter net income increase of 44% and annual profits of $1.3 billion, “it’s time for pay TV’s poster child for skyrocketing rates to come clean on retransmission consent.”
It’s looking increasingly likely that Congress may authorize the FCC to hold incentive auctions as soon as this summer as part of debt-ceiling legislation now in the works. NAB says it is “working hard to ensure that spectrum-related provisions would include replication and interference protections for the vast majority of TV stations that will choose to remain in business.”