A Rehr Alliance


The National Association of Broadcasters was catching some flak this week for opposing the Sirius/XM merger with arguments that made them sound like the anti-consolidation activists with whom they regularly do battle.

In fact, Dr. Mark Cooper of Consumer's Union, who has fought against consolidating broadcast media, and cable media, and telephone companies and I don't know what all, to quote Andy Griffith, was standing–make that sitting–with NAB President David Rehr this week at a House hearing, making the same arguments against the merger and even coming to Rehr's strong defense at one point.

"The merger would create a monopoly that would harm consumers"; "nothing has occureed in the 10 years [since the services were launched] to warrant a change in public policy";  "while the merger may help line the pockets of financiers and corporate executives, it certainly doesn't benefit the public interest." And that was Rehr, not Cooper, talking.

So, are broadcasters wildly inconsistent given they have used their competition with satellite radio as justification for asking for loosened radio ownership rules. Some in Congress last week heard Rehr's description of XM/Sirius and said it reminded them of Clear Channel, the poster-company for radio consolidation, though it has been deconsolidating of late. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell wondered whether broadcasters would be "hoisting themselves on their own petard" (blowing themselves up with their own bomb)

Broadcasters argue that their arguements for loosening ownership and keeping XM and Sirius separate are not inconsistent. Broadcasters still say they compete with satellite radio on the local level–which is why satellite counts as a voice in the local market–but that–and this is the key distinction–broadcasters cannot compete with satellite radio on a national level as a "portable radio service on a nationwide scale to geographically dispersed audiences." NAB points out that that is how the FCC set up the service.

OF course, things have changed in the past 10 years, including the rise of HD radio and Internet radio and wireless devices everywhere, but COngress and the courts have been reluctant to allow deregulation on the argument that there are all those substitutable services out there.

Whether braodcasters'argument will fly is the $64,000 question, but NAB is making it with a red border and an exclamation point to anyone who will listen.

While veterean Republican Rehr was taking some heat last week, including from Democratic Congressfolk cranky over what they see as sometimes heavyhanded broadcaster lobbying, he was also getting some praise from the ranks.

One broadcaster in town for a Washington meet-and-greet last week buttonholed Rehr between Hill meetings to comment on his performance as a witness at the Sirius/XM hearing: "Great Job," he said. "You were on fire."

By John Eggerton