Time To Redefine Broadcast Issues, Says Rehr


"Free over the air broadcasting" is "a bit clunky and perhaps outdated." That was the unusual-sounding message from National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr to an NAB opening session.

His point was not that the medium was either of those things, but that the terminology broadcasters are using to define themselves to Washington policymakers needs to be "updated and clarified," "reframed and rebranded."

"Wireless sounds like the future," he said, echoing a familiar refrain of late from the NAB that the medium was wireless before it was cool.

Digital television sounds like the future, "YouTube, Google" sound like the future he said. One word he had no desire to modify was "local," saying that remained something policymakers understand.

Saying NAB had completed "phase I" of his tenure of slightly over a year at the helm. That included traveling across the countyy--Rehr, a veteran Republican fund-raiser--mapped out the states in red, talking to state associations and  ramping up its lobbying efforts, which he said should be called "advocacy" rather than lobbying, which sounds like waiting in a hotel lobby for legislators to come to them. "Today, we can't wait," he said.

Now, it was time for phase II, he said, which was to do a better job of framing the debate and defining broadcasting in ways that advance its causes rather than cause legislators to scratch their heads.

Rehr took aim at several competitors in the speech as he talked of redefinitions.

He said "multicast must-carry" sounds like able will have to cut its channels to add broadcasters. Not true, he said, arguing for adopting the term stripping, as in stripping out broadcasters' signals, a term Rehr has been pushing on the Hill. But Rehr now wants broadcasters to speak in one voice.

Cable is "ripping out our data, taking our valuable programming away from consumers." Staying with the cable industry, he said that the term downconversion was too obtuse, suggesting it sounded like something you do with duck feathers.

Rehr said he preferred the term "digital discrimination" since it was a case of cable degrading the broadcast signal to carry its own channels in full high-definition.

Then there is "performance rights," he said, referring to an effort to require broadcasters to pay performers a fee for playing their songs. Rehr called it "brazen greed"for recor4d companies to expect broadcasters to pay them for marketing their songs." Free music for free promotion," is the new battle cry.

Rehr also took aim at the proposed XM/Sirius satellite radio merger, playing a tape of Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin testifying on Capitol Hill, but edited to mock him, with Karmazin saying merger over and over, then appearing to say "this merger will not be approved."

"On this point Mel and I agree," said Rehr.

Actually, Karmazin had said that if the two companies did not demonstrate that the merger was in the public interest and not anticompetitive, as Karmazin argues it is, then it would not be approved.