Chairman Lawlor a ‘True Partner’ to NBC
Affiliates board leader post is not for the faint of heart
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/12/2011 12:01:00 AMBroadcaster of the Year: Brian Lawlor
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Chairing an affiliates board can feel like a second full-time job, say veterans of that key position. Relatively quiet spells are mixed with periods of endless conference calls, frenzied travel and other heavy lifting as the board sorts out critical issues with the network, on behalf of its affiliates nationwide.
“It ebbs and it flows, from a monthly board call and the semi-annual general meeting,” says Michael Fiorile, past chairman of the NBC affiliates board and vice chairman/CEO of Dispatch Broadcast Group, “to something like the Leno [at 10 p.m.] situation or the NFL or Olympics [rights]. Then you’re very busy.”
Since he moved up to board chairman of NBC’s 200-plus affiliates in May 2010, Brian Lawlor has been the stations’ point man on several key issues, including working with NBC on securing the TV rights to several Olympics over the next decade to the current negotiations on the so-called “proxy” deal that would have NBC negotiate retransmission consent deals with pay television operators on behalf of its affiliates—a timegobbling venture whose initial spade work pre-dates the Comcast-NBCU merger.
Fiorile and Lawlor were the go-to guys on the affiliate side in securing key terms and protections prior to that merger—including a commitment from Comcast to protect overthe- air television, to keep marquee sports programming on broadcast TV, and to erect and honor a firewall between retransmission negotiations and affiliation agreements— before the board issued its approval of the marriage. After a lengthy back-and-forth with future NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, much of it in person, the influential affiliates board gave the merger its thumbs-up last summer. “It was a long process,” says Fiorile.
It behooves Scripps, with NBC affiliates in Kansas City and West Palm Beach, among other markets, to have a key person on the affiliates board. “It presents opportunities that we might not otherwise get,” says Scripps President/CEO Richard Boehne. “We get a return on investment on that.”
Jean Dietze, NBC executive VP/affiliate relations, says Lawlor is an expert bridge-builder. “Brian’s experience in and understanding of the broadcast landscape, along with his business acumen and collaborative approach, make him one of the most respected executives in television,” Dietze said in a statement. “As chairman of the NBC affiliate board, Brian does a great job of balancing—he’s a staunch and tireless advocate for the affiliate body, and at the same time a true partner to us as we develop long-term strategies that work for both the stations and the network.” Lawlor is, in the words of Dietze, “exactly the right person” to win Broadcaster of the Year honors.
Fiorile has been pleased, though not surprised, to see Lawlor rise up to the considerable demands of representing the NBC affiliates body. “Brian’s a thoughtful and smart guy, a good listener and a good team guy,” he says. “He’s done a great job, keeping it together.”
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