news analysis

High-Stakes Duel In D.C.: NAB Vs. FCC

NAB's Smith
FCC's Wheeler
The trade group's two losses at the commission this week — on JSAs and joint retrans negotiations — are troubling to broadcasters because they believe FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has it in for them and other important issues are in the regulatory pipeline. But the news out of the nation's capital is not all bad for NAB. The association is holding its own on Capitol Hill, where power is more diffused and NAB President (and former GOP Senator) Gordon Smith has some personal clout.

This Monday was a bad day for broadcasting at the FCC, and perhaps a worse one for the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobby that is supposed to make sure the industry doesn't have any bad days anywhere in Washington.

Despite the vigorous opposition of the NAB, the FCC closed loopholes in its local ownership rules that have allowed broadcasters to effectively operate multiple stations, sometimes two Big Four affiliates, in small and medium markets. It banned new joint sales agreements (JSAs) and ordered broadcasters to unwind existing ones within two years.

Story continues after the ad

The agency also took steps that could undermine broadcasters’ ability to negotiate for higher retransmission consent fees from cable and satellite operators — revenue that broadcasters have been counting on to meet financial targets and keep pace with cable programmers.

It forbad stations from banding together to negotiate the retrans fees they charge cable and satellite for retransmitting broadcast TV signals. And it proposed eliminating its network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules — bedrock regs that make it easier for broadcasters to protect the local exclusivity of their programming.

The NAB  is "getting pounded" at the FCC, said one group TV station executive and NAB member, who asked not to be identified. 

But the news out of the nation's capital is not all bad for NAB, according to communications policy players. The association is holding its own on Capitol Hill, where the battles may be fewer, but the stakes are considerably higher.

Brand Connections

The NAB gets kudos in particular for quashing a proposed provision in a draft House satellite bill that would have eliminated the requirement that pay-TV operators carry broadcast signals on the basic programming tier.

“NAB started in a hole and came out smelling like a rose,” said Preston Padden, a former Disney lobbyist who is now representing station owners considering participating in the FCC incentive auction.

NAB's problems at the FCC come down to one man, Tom Wheeler. Since becoming the FCC chairman last November, he  has proved hostile to many of broadcasters' interests and resistant to NAB's arguments.

Industry lobbyists say that Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable TV and wireless industries, believes broadcasters are hogging spectrum that he feels they really don’t need to continue providing TV service, and that some of that spectrum should be repurposed for wireless services and new technology. He has, they say, little interest in protecting or encouraging the medium.

Wheeler's prime mission at the FCC is to recover a great swath of TV spectrum through a so-called incentive auction, in which the FCC would buy spectrum from broadcasters and turn around and sell it to wireless carriers.

“Sometimes policymakers conflate the age of technology with the inefficiency of the technology,” said David Honig, president of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. “They [NAB] are facing a perfect storm of disruptive technology, regulatory and political excitement about all the shiny new things. That gives them a headwind to fight against.”

As Wheeler sees it, the curtailing of JSAs was needed to prevent broadcasters from routinely making end-runs around an agency rule that bars one company from owning more than one TV station in smaller markets.

But as broadcast lobbyists see it, he is simply promoting the anti-media consolidation agenda of Democratic liberal watchdog groups. Wheeler’s appointment to his job was due in large part to his success in raising large sums of money for the campaigns of America's top Democrat, President Obama, they point out.

It has hurt NAB that Sinclair Broadcast Group has been one of the industry’s most aggressive proponents of JSA sidecar deals, and that the Baltimore-based station group has been a long-time booster of conservative GOP causes.

Among other things, Sinclair’s conservative politics have made it difficult for NAB to recruit Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill willing to tell their fellow Democrat at the FCC — Wheeler — to back down, broadcast lobbyists say.

Some broadcasters say Wheeler wants to hammer broadcast station values, thereby encouraging broadcasters to participate in the incentive auction.

“When you’ve got an FCC chairman who is dismissive of broadcasting and wants to push TV stations into an auction by diminishing their value and punish David Smith [Sinclair CEO], it’s tough to win,” says one broadcast industry source.

“Baloney,” said Wheeler, after Monday’s vote in response to a reporter’s question about whether he was attempting to hurt broadcasters financially to drive them into the auction.

Broadcasters also believe that Wheeler is far too cozy with cable operators, whom he represented in Washington in the 1980s as president of their principal lobby, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

One example of his continuing relationship with cable executives: Wheeler met privately with NCTA board members at the cable association’s Washington headquarters on Feb. 27, sources say. NCTA and FCC spokesmen declined comment on the topics discussed during the off-the-record session.


Comments (8) -

Chuck Nickname posted over 2 years ago
We are viewers without payTV--either cable or satellite. This article further confirms that the FCC is intent on destroying our television provided by local TV stations. When channels 52 to 69 were eliminated we saw some reduction in service due to interference with more stations on fewer channels too close together. If more channels are taken away the problem will be even greater. And if this repacking idea takes place the quality of our available signals will be decreased. The local TBN station carries at least 6 programs and the quality is very poor on all of them. We don't watch them so it doesn't matter that much to us, but if more desirable stations start to share channels then we will be negatively impacted. It would appear that the new Commissioner is determined to destroy what we have in favor of payTV.
Roger Thornhill Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Simply dismissing an accusation as "baloney" without elaborating does not brand the accusation as false. Actions speak louder then words. My challenge to Mr. Wheeler is that if he truly is not out to harm television broadcasters then prove it. And as a taxpayer who pays Wheeler's salary as well as a broadcaster, I have every right to ask: What have you done for me lately (or since taking your post as chairman)? From where I sit, it looks like nothing.
cowboy Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Small market broadcasters need to use their collective voice with the viewers to influence public policy more effectively. To hell with the greedy networks and major market broadcasters who hold the licenses in the markets most sought after in the spectrum auction. It's the fabric of our nation-small communities all across America-where the viewers and the broadcasters who serve them so willingly, are getting screwed.
Retran101Man Nickname posted over 2 years ago
•Obama: “We’re Going To Have To Change The Culture In Washington So That Lobbyists And Special Interests Aren’t Driving The Process.” (Sen. Barack Obama, Second Presidential Debate, Nashville, TN, 10/7/08). No, Mr. President, we'll just appoint a "lobbyist" with a blind loyalty to cable and wireless to the Chair of the FCC and allow him to run roughshod over the broadcasters of America. Baloney, indeed!
Retran101Man Nickname posted over 2 years ago
One more thing: •Obama’s “Revolving Door Ban” Prohibits Any Appointee From Participating In A Policy Matter That Is “Directly And Substantially Related” To A Former Employer Or Clients. “2.Revolving Door Ban – All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.” (The White House, “Executive Order,” Press Release, 1/21/09).
Insider Nickname posted over 2 years ago
He promised multiple times to not sign any bill or anything into law without it being posted on the website for 72 hours and broke that promise within 6 hours of inaguration - so are you really surprised?
dawg78 Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Broadcasters "believe" Tommy the Cable guy has it in for us? Believe nothing--he does!
tjxx Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Obama is a disaster..What did you expect from Wheeler Obama does not even know the difference between a station and a cable network..As evidenced by his interview on Super Bowl Sunday with Bill Oreilly when he kept referring to Fox News as "a news station". Bunch of Amateurs!!!
Marketshare Blog Playout Blog




Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 27, 2016
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.
  • 6.
Source: Nielsen


  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

This advertisement will close automatically in  second(s). You will see this ad no more than once a day. Skip ad