Disney leaving NAB

Mouse was tired of criticism from affiliates

WASHINGTON — Fed up with the criticism heaped on the nets in recent months, the Mouse House became the last of the Big Four to ankle the National Assn. of Broadcasters.

“There was a small number of affiliate firebrands, driving this wedge between the affiliates and the networks,” said Preston Padden, Disney/ABC’s chief lobbyist at a news conference Tuesday. “I’ve spent 30 years kicking around the (NAB) building. It’s a sad day.”

Padden added that he has had one preliminary discussion with the other nets about forming a separate alliance, but the idea was only in the formative stages.

Nearly two years ago Fox, NBC and Viacom/CBS left the NAB as well, claiming that could not maintain their relationship with an org that lobbied lawmakers to throw off the shackles binding local TV and radio station mergers and acquisitions while simultaneously arguing for imposing regs restraining the nets’ expansion.

Early this month the FCC decided to raise the bar on the percentage of TV households one company could reach with its affiliate holdings from 35% percent to 45%. The NAB lobbied hard against any relaxation of that cap and has helped fuel an effort by a group of influential senators to roll it back to 35%.

Meanwhile, the broadcasting trade group also successfully pushed for repeal of the FCC ban on a company purchasing a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same market and an easing of restrictions on how many TV stations one company can own.

In numerous legal arguments to the FCC, the NAB claimed that TV stations not owned by the nets did a better job at covering local news and maintaining a relationship with their local community. The Big Four provided their own evidence rebutting such claims, and the repeated clashes on the issue exacerbated frictions between the nets, affiliates and TV station groups.

“A small number of affiliates have been pushing this lie that network owned stations aren’t doing a good job at news,” Padden said. “Anybody who knows anything about the industry knows that’s not true.”

“We regret ABC’s choice to leave NAB membership. They were a valued member of the association,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton acknowledged. “Their departure was related to our longstanding support of the 35 percent cap, but virtually every other issue we’re in an agreement with ABC.”

For Disney, the final straw came at the NAB’s board of governors meeting last week when Padden spent two days trying to convince members to accept a version of a doctrine first espoused by Ronald Reagan.

Reagan told fellow Republicans not to speak ill of one another. Last week Padden was trying to convince NAB members not to allow the trade group to become a megaphone for one part of the membership’s business interests to the detriment of another’s.