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Exclusive: NBC, Affiliates Take Step Forward in Proxy Arrangement

The elusive pact to have NBC negotiate retransmission consent deals on behalf of its affiliates isn't dead yet, said both the network and its affiliate leadership, and has moved forward -- albeit with a baby step.

Brian Lawlor, who passed along his affiliates board chairman duties to Jordan Wertlieb at the May 14 meeting, made the landmark proxy arrangement a focus of his chairmanship. In the meeting, both parties agreed on an arrangement whereby NBC, when negotiating retrans terms for one of its owned stations with certain MVPDs, will ask the distributor to extend the same terms as those for the O&Os to affiliates whose deals are also coming due.

The affiliates have the chance to opt in, while the MVPDs are of course free to nix the network's request. Lawlor termed it "a good first step"--a modest one, but a step nonetheless.

Wertlieb, who spent much of his career at NBC affiliate WBAL Baltimore before being promoted to Hearst TV corporate, saluted the network's 2012-2013 gameplan, revealed at its upfront presentation earlier in the day, of stoking new hits on the backs of early-in-the-week ratings monsters Sunday Night Football and The Voice. He called it a "very solid strategy," and voiced his enthusiasm for Comcast's support of over the air television. "Their investment speaks loudly to the affiliate body," Wertlieb said. "I think it's going to be a very exciting year."

Almost 200 people on the affiliate side attended the meeting in midtown Manhattan. Several affiliates were impressed by the new comedies unveiled at Radio City Music Hall before the meeting.

Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman, said the relationship between NBC and its affiliates is a model for the industry. He referred to Wertlieb as the Straight Talk Express for his style of communication, saluted Lawlor's tireless efforts as chairman the past two years, and called the affiliates essential partners. "The relationship is looked at as the best in the business," said Harbert. "It matters a lot to me not to let that slip away."