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In Vegas, BroadcastersGo All In With Affiliates

Complete Coverage: NAB 2012

As the National Association of Broadcasters show progressed in Las Vegas last week, the main source of irritation for broadcast attendees switched from the cab lines at the Encore and the Bellagio to a considerably more onerous issue: the FCC’s push to make TV stations put their public files, detailing on-the-air political advertising, online.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has been very clear in his intent for this to happen, and happen fast. “It’s the 21st century. I call it common sense,” Genachowski told broadcasters during an NAB address April 16 in a tone that some felt was a bit condescending.

Multiple local broadcasters suggested the mandate is coming from the White House, which is said to be displeased with the unchecked Super PAC riches flowing to TV stations.

On its face, it’s not hard to see the chairman’s logic: If your local Department of Motor Vehicles has been able to convert its records to digital, a TV station— a paragon of progressive digital technology—should be expected to do so as well. The idea of a congressional hopeful’s intern photocopying dog-eared documents in a TV station’s musty basement hardly paints the picture of cutting-edge local media.

Yet broadcasters are gravely concerned about doing so. For starters, they would rather spend the money required for the interminable data entry involved with such a project on their newsgathering. To that argument, Genachowski said it’s a “nominal” cost for stations, and one that will save money in the long run. “In a world that is increasingly going digital, why have a special exemption for broadcasters?” he wondered aloud.

Broadcasters say the FCC has not been receptive to calls for a compromise. Alan Frank, president and CEO of Post-Newsweek, said after Genachowski’s presentation that the transferring process sought by the FCC, which would include dozens of politicians and a dizzying array of different advertising rates and dayparts and programs at each station, would only serve to confuse people. “It will create more miscommunication than communication,” Frank said.

More concerning for stations is sharing the minute details about their ad rates up and down the programming grid for all the world, including their competitors, to see.

“Have my competition see what I charge in my 6 p.m. news?” said one station general manager who asked not to be named. “It’s destructive. It’s devastating.”

All the Rage

The public file matter was a hot topic of discussion in the various affiliate board and body meetings in Las Vegas, with Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, pledging to have stations’ backs. “We are adamantly opposed,” said Bill Hoffman, chairman of the ABC affiliates board. “We don’t see the viewer benefit at all.”

Most broadcasters believe they would have a strong case in the courts, which is where the public file matter looks to be headed. They hope it remains tied up in litigation at least until Genachowski departs the FCC.

But for now, it is, in the words of one Fox affiliate executive, “a major pain in the ass” at a time when business, and affiliate relations, are otherwise in a good place. “What other industry has to put its competitive rates online?” asked another fired-up Fox station exec. “It could do irreparable harm to broadcasters.”

The public file issue aside, it was a positive week in Vegas, with the affiliate board, and affiliate body, meetings mostly showing a welcome harmony between the stations and their partner networks. An overview of the meetings follows.