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Washington Watch

3/03/2006 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Third Prize Is, You're Fired!

New NAB President David Rehr has begun instituting a strategy to turn the annual State Leadership Conference in Washington into a group “issues” effort to lobby legislators with an army of well-schooled broadcasters.

Rehr points out that many of the broadcasters combine the annual Washington event with sales calls on clients; many broadcast executives have risen through the sales ranks.

He is hoping to turn the annual “grip and grin” into a “grip and close the deal” when it comes to key legislative issues, such as indecency and multicasting. His goal, he says, is a “finely tuned machine.”

Each of the estimated 500 or so station and group executives attending the conference got the equivalent of a morning sales meeting. Then each was to get an NAB-branded bag containing, among other things, color-coded issue cheat sheets; a slick year-of-public-interest-in-review brochure; a study refuting a cable study on retransmission consent; lapel stickers on indecency—”Help Empower Parents: Ask Me How”—and general branding—”Radio & TV: Wireless Before It Was Cool.”

NAB was girded for battle with boxes full of the bags—organized by state—lined up in a reception area at the Mandarin Hotel, which hosted the conference.

The list of bill supporters is part of Rehr's strategy to let legislators know that broadcasters are keeping close tabs on who is voting for what, as well as to show those who haven't signed on how many of their colleagues have.

The broadcasters—who met individually with their senators and representatives on Wednesday—also got what is in effect an “issue” order form so that they can record their lobbying progress on key issues, with places to check off the legislator's response: “Supports Our Position,” “Opposes Our Position,” “Has No Position,” “Not Discussed.” There will even be an incentive bonus for broadcasters who return the forms: Two names will be drawn at random; each will get $100.

The seven “color-coded” issues for which Rehr and NAB are looking to get a legislative check-off: 1) Supports broadcasters on downconversion, multi­casting, and treating stations the same regarding cable carriage; 2) Will co-sponsor H.R. 998 (the satellite radio bill); 3) Will give media campaign time to develop before legislating indecency; 4) Will allow industry time to work on audio-broadcast-flag solution; 5) Will protect digital television content with a broadcast flag; 6) Will oppose a performance-right tax on local broadcasters; 7) Understands local broadcasters' community service.”

Eventually, all that information will be put into a database.

FCC's Tate Pushes À La Carte

New Republican FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate speaks softly, but she may carry a big agenda. She told broadcasters at their leadership conference last week that she has had meetings with cable operators on à la carte.

She wrote to cable companies to let them know she supports their self-regulatory efforts so far, which include family-friendly tiers and talk of à la carte by a few. But she also said the industry has not gone far enough.

Cable is under pressure to unbundle its channels to give viewers more control over content and, some in Congress argue, lower cable rates.

Tate said that some of her friends complain about the price of their cable bill when they have to block half the channels they pay for. She also said she had been meeting with broadcasters about what positive steps they could take to combat childhood obesity.

While she asked the crowd to feel free to talk with her and declared herself eager to discuss the issues, she refused to clarify her remarks for reporters or take any follow-up questions on any of those issues.

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