On Retrans’ Anniversary, Remembering The Key Roles Of Larry Tisch And Jay Kriegel
This marks the 30th anniversary of Congress’s sole veto override of President George H. W. Bush’s presidency, the 1992 Cable Act, which included retransmission consent.
Many people deserve a share of the credit for that incredible achievement:
- Eddie Fritts, Jim May, Gary Chapman, Jack Goodman and their colleagues at the NAB.
- Local television broadcasters across the country who were central to the lobbying effort.
- The late Sen. Daniel Inouye, former Reps. Jack Fields and Dennis Eckart and their staffs.
But two people are often overlooked for their central roles in procuring retrans, which has become a mainstay of the financial viability of television broadcasters: CBS’s Larry Tisch and Jay Kriegel.
More often than not, sometimes unfairly, Tisch is vilified for other actions during his tenure as CEO of CBS, but very early on, he zeroed in on the gross inequity of cable operators getting their most popular programming without having to compensate the sources of that programming, broadcast television. In the late 1980s, with the benefit of new eyes on the broadcast business model, Tisch began looking into how that inequity might be addressed.
His closest aide over the course of many years, even before CBS, was the irrepressible Kriegel. Responding to Larry’s concerns, Kriegel sought the opinion of some key network affiliate broadcast veterans at, among others, Belo, Nationwide and GroupW who agreed that the industry’s then principal effort to secure must carry needed to be superseded by seeking compensation from cable operators.
Out of those conversations came retransmission consent, and thanks to cable’s successful opposition to must carry, broadcasters moved forward to the retrans effort instead.
At first, Tisch and Kriegel were sometimes ridiculed for their early advocacy of retrans. Cap Cities ABC did not want to jeopardize its cable relationships. Fox wanted to go after the cable compulsory license instead. Only NBC CEO Bob Wright and his network showed initial interest. NAB and leading independent broadcasters were still pursuing the last straws of must carry.
But Tisch and Kriegel persisted. Tisch made countless trips to Washington to educate lawmakers on the illogical business equation between broadcasters and cable operators. Given his position at CBS, to say nothing of his national stature as one of the nation’s most astute investors, he had access to almost every senator and congressman, and he used it.
Ironically, as he tried to make the case for retrans, many of the legislators wanted, instead, his views on the economy and markets, but he worked hard to return the conversations to retrans.
As for Kriegel, he worked ceaselessly in front of and behind the scenes to rally anyone with a stake to the cause. As one who regularly felt his unrelenting pressure to move the issue forward, it was the lobbying equivalent of trying to sip from a fire hose.
And just as important, and no doubt surprising to some, Tisch issued a rare blank check for the effort.
After initial, successful passage in both the House and Senate, the Bush veto was overridden by just one vote in the Senate when Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), whom Minority Leader Bob Dole thought would be absent, slipped back into D.C. (on a plane owned by an anonymous broadcaster) to cast the deciding vote. Even then, Vice President Dan Quayle tried to abscond with the paperwork which might have resulted in a Bush pocket veto. But staffers for Majority Leader George Mitchell sniffed out the plot and effected the necessary procedural steps to make the veto override stick.
For its leadership advocating retransmission consent, CBS was singled out by the major cable operators for retribution when retrans negotiations began in 1993. Another decade would pass before meaningful compensation would begin to flow, but it would have never happened without Tisch and Kriegel. The industry owes them enduring gratitude.
Marty Franks retired from CBS in 2013 after 25 years in executive posts there. He helped win passage of retrans when head of CBS’s Washington office, and later negotiated CBS’s retrans deals until his retirement.