Viacom/CBS took its 35 TV stations and 184 radio stations and walked out of the National Association of Broadcasters Wednesday, making CBS the third network to exit the association.
"We have been proud NAB members for many years, but it has recently become clear that we have a fundamental issue on which we and certain of the NAB's television members disagree," said the company in a statement Wednesday.
The networks are locked in a heated battle with their independently owned affiliates and independent stations over whether the 35% audience cap on TV station ownership should be lifted. The networks currently are waging that war in the U.S. Court of Appeals at the D.C. Circuit, where they are suing the FCC over the 35% limit. Fox and NBC left the association last year after disagreeing with the board over the same issue.
The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA), composed of both network O&Os and independently-owned affiliates, last month filed a petition with the FCC complaining about multiple abuses they felt they had suffered at the hands of the networks. Last week, CBS severed ties with its affiliate advisory board, saying it could no longer "work effectively" with its members.
CBS left the association yesterday after NAB's television board members agreed to file a joint petition with NASA that argues to maintain the 35% cap before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
NAB and its members said they were surprised and disappointed to see CBS go. "It's very regrettable that the only way out they saw was to resign from the NAB," said Jim Yager, joint chairman of the NAB television and radio boards and president of Benedek Broadcasting.
"I'm very disappointed that this issue should rise above every other issue ahead of us," said Andy Fisher, executive vice president of Cox Television and a member of NAB's television board.
Only Disney-owned ABC remains a member of NAB, but some sources don't expect ABC to stick around long. "We have not made any decision about what we're going to do," said Preston Padden, senior VP of Disney's government relations.
"I am terribly terribly troubled by an affiliate-driven position that says repeal the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule but keep the ownership cap," Padden went on to say. "It's intellectually inconsistent, unprincipled and unsustainable."
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said the association would not be financially hurt by CBS's departure, but that it was "regrettable."
Even if all the networks leave, most broadcast executives don't think the networks will form their own lobbying group. "We can work together without having an association," one exec said. - Steve McClellan