NBC rejoins NAB

Studio returns to broadcast org roost

The Peacock is back in the house.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters kicked off its annual convention Monday with a much-ballyhooed announcement that NBC had rejoined the org after a seven-year separation.

“We are pleased to rejoin the NAB and help give the broadcast side of our business a powerful and united voice in Washington at a time of incredibly rapid change and numerous legislative challenges,” Jeff Zucker, prexy-chief of NBC Universal, said in a statement.

NBC withdrew from NAB in 2000 amid bitter differences over national ownership caps. The other three major nets left similarly. Independently owned stations opposed the nets’ desire to raise caps.

ABC rejoined NAB two years ago, but Fox and the Eye have yet to return.

In his opening keynote address, NAB topper David K. Rehr said he had “really, really big news,” and after the announcement personally thanked Zucker as well as NBC general counsel Rick Cotton and chief of TV stations and network operations Jay Ireland.

Rehr then launched into a spirited and at times slightly Orwellian call for NAB members “to be more astute choosing the words that describe us and our positions on the issues. We need to choose words that advance our cause — not words that are inherently self-defeating, confusing, defensive or simply outdated.”

Saying that words and phrases like “free over-the-air broadcasting” do not reflect the present or future, Rehr said “the NAB right now has a team working on finding the best words to define us and take us into the future.”

Rehr offered some examples, such as with the issue of “down-conversion,” which involves cable operators’ degrading a digital broadcast signal they carry. A better term, Rehr said, is “digital discrimination,” or “HD discrimination.” He also said he preferred the word “advocacy” to “lobbying.”

Rehr promised the org would be “more aggressive” in getting its message out to Capitol Hill and the Federal Communications Commission, and then showed some aggression of his own.

Two massive screens flanking Rehr played slyly edited clips of Sirius Satellite Radio chief Mel Karmazin’s recent appearances before congressional committees, provoking easy laughs at Karmazin’s expense. NAB has been vehemently opposed to the possible merger of Sirius and rival satcaster XM. Rehr even predicted: “This merger will not be approved.”

Rehr went after recording labels for “brazen greed” over their pursuit of a “performance right” royalty. Radio and recording labels have had a mutually beneficial relationship for decades as DJs gave “free promotion” to recording labels’ artists in exchange for spinning the discs “at no charge,” he said.

“Imagine the brazen greed it takes for the record companies to expect us to pay them for the honor of marketing and promoting their artists’ music,” Rehr said. “It would make much more sense for us to charge them.”

Rehr vowed to lobby Congress against “this levy” that the music industry is seeking.

“As the broadcast business reinvents itself technologically,” he said in closing, “we must also reinvent our identity. We should draw on the best of the past and redefine it for the future.”

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