ABC Back Inside NAB Tent

ABC television and radio stations owned by The Walt Disney Co. have rejoined the National Association of Broadcasters after bolting the trade group two years ago over a media-ownership dispute.

Disney’s return, announced Wednesday, begins to repair a bitter feud between network affiliates, which dominate the NAB, and the national networks. But the healing process is far from over because NBC, CBS and Fox -- long gone before Disney found the exit -- have given no indication of reversing their decision.

The “Big Four” fled the NAB because their affiliates wanted to ban the networks from owning stations that reached more than 35% of U.S. TV households. Relaxing the 35% cap, the affiliates argued, would give the network too much influence over programming decisions, among other things.

In June 2003, the Federal Communications Commission moved the cap to 45%. A few months later, Congress responded to affiliate lobbying by imposing a 39% cap that the FCC is unauthorized to alter.

When Disney pulled out of the NAB, executive vice president of worldwide government relations Preston Padden indicated that the networks might form their own trade association, but it never happened.

“ABC believes that the best interests of our industry, our company and, ultimately, the viewing public can be promoted by returning to the NAB at this time. With policy differences now behind us, ABC and the NAB are once again in a position to work together toward our important common goals," Padden said in a joint statement with NAB officials.

After Disney’s move, the NAB is looking refreshed and energized as it continues the search to replace president Edward Fritts and to modify federal legislation that could orphan 73 million analog-TV sets in a few years.

"This is great news for the NAB, ABC and the entire broadcast industry," Fritts said in a joint statement with Padden. "There is no denying that we are stronger as an industry when we are united."

Disney rejoins the NAB about one month before Robert Iger takes over as CEO from Michael Eisner. In recent months, Disney has patched things up with a pair of angry former directors (including Roy Disney), and the company is reportedly seeking to heal a rift with Pixar Animation Studios.