TV Execs Call for Deregulation

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As local broadcasters strive to increase revenues and improve margins, top executives from several major station groups renewed their calls Thursday for deregulation and the revamping of the TV-ownership rules.  

Under the current guidelines, a company can own stations reaching no more than 39% of the country. Calling the formula “ludicrous,” NBC Universal Television Stations President Jay Ireland said, “We are now at 31% [of the country]. New York City is 6%, and that is if every viewer watched WNBC every day. Come on. We know what our ratings are, and we are a sliver. The broadcast industry is getting left in the dust.”

Former NBC executive Brandon Burgess, now CEO of Ion Media Networks (formerly Paxson Communications), says regulation is stymieing broadcaster innovations. “If some of the artificial and nonsensical limitations are eliminated, then our industry will be less punished,” Burgess said.

Both executives participated in a TV and radio conference Thursday hosted by Kagan Research in New York.

“This is a mature industry, and mature industries consolidate,” said Nexstar Broadcasting CEO Perry Sook. “Hence the need for deregulation.”

But concerns over deregulation extend to content as well. In New York, for example, Ireland said that there are both cable and broadcast networks carried on channels 2 to 9. Viewers may not sense any difference, but only the broadcasters are subject to governmental oversight. “We get regulated because we have broadcast licenses,” Ireland said. “Cable channels can put on anything they want, and we're all regulated.”

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