Mouse Back in NAB House

Disney/ABC is rejoining the National Association of Broadcasters.

"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," said  Preston Padden, Executive VP/worldwide government relations, for The Walt Disney Company.  "With policy differences now behind us, ABC and NAB are once again in a position to work together towards our important common goals,"

Padden will immediately get a seat on the NAB board.

The network exited NAB in 2003-the last of the Big Four to do so--in a dispute over the national TV station ownership cap, which has since been set by Congress at 39%.

For its part, Fox said it had not plans to follow ABC back into the NAB fold. CBS and NBC declined to comment, though CBS is said to have told its affiliates it could be open to rejoining the association depending on its direction under new leadership, including the successor to long-time President Eddie Fritts.

The central issue in the dispute between NAB and the network was the division between the "Big Four" nets and their affiliates over whether or not to raise the 35% ownership cap on a group owner's national audience reach. (NBC and Fox quit the NAB in 2000 and CBS in 2001 over the cap issue.)

The NAB had been lobbying against raising the cap, with stations arguing that allowing the networks to own more stations would give them undue leverage in affiliate contract negotiations.

The networks countered that they need to bulk up to survive, pointing out that some of the non-network groups contain many more stations, simply not in as large markets.

The issue came to a boil for ABC in June 2003, when the NAB TV board voted to endorse congressional attempts to restore the 35% cap, which the FCC raised to 45% in a controversial June 2 vote.

The boil was roiling by then, with Padden labeling the National Association of Broadcasters a weapon in the "jihad" of large affiliate groups against the networks. In a letter to NAB president Eddie Fritts, whom he called one of the victims in this fight, Padden had said the move was made "with genuine sorrow."

Sorrow, yes, but Disney was also angry at what it saw as NAB shots at its stations. At the time, Padden cited NAB's assertion in its lobbying efforts that network-owned stations "lagged behind" affiliates in local public service."

There was genuine happiness Wednesday, with NAB Joint Board Chairman Bruce Reese appearing to directly salve that particular sore spot: "We are proud to welcome ABC back into the NAB family. ABC stations have a well deserved reputation for delivering high quality news and public service, two of the hallmarks of local broadcasting."

Rejoining NAB are the ABC television network, the company's 10 TV stations and 70 radio stations.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.