Ending months of speculation, Eddie Fritts — the nation’s top broadcast lobbyist on Capital Hill — announced last week that he will step down as head of the National Association of Broadcasters when his contract ends in April 2006.
Fritts, 63, has been the president and chief executive officer of the NAB since 1982. He said he was announcing his plans early in order to give the NAB adequate time to pick his successor. Fritts said he plans to remain a consultant to the organization.
Fritts is leaving the NAB at a time when its broadcaster members are facing intensive competitive pressure from an increasing number of pay media services. Once considered the most powerful lobby in Washington, the organization has seen its clout reduced.
One reason is that FOX, NBC, CBS and ABC left the NAB in recent years as it became clear that networks and independent station owners often had conflicting priorities. Not having the networks and their owned-and-operated stations as members made it impossible for the NAB to present the face of a unified industry before members of Congress.
Though Fritts has had an overall mixed record during his tenure, he suffered one of his biggest defeats earlier this month when the FCC rejected multicast must-carry. Broadcasters had made it a top priority to get a government policy that would require that all of a broadcaster’s digital channels be aired on cable television. Also lost were major recent battles over broadcast ownership rules and the government’s harsh fines against indecency on the airwaves.
During his remaining time, Fritts said he would focus on the transition to digital television and closely watch how Congress revises the country’s communications laws.
Co-chairing the search committee to identify Fritts' successor will be NAB Joint Board Chairman Philip Lombardo, CEO of Citadel Communications; and immediate past Joint Board Chair David Kennedy, president and CEO of Susquehanna Media Company.
Though the process to find a successor for Fritts has just begun, early speculation has centered on Marty Franks, a CBS executive, and Jim May, a former NAB lobbyist who now heads the Air Transport Association, as serious candidates for the NAB job.