NAB Revises Duopoly Plea

As the days tick away before the FCC's expected June 2 decisions on media ownership laws, the NAB Television Board held an "emergency" meeting May 27 and endorsed a new proposal for the rule restricting the ownership of two stations in one market.

The latest NAB suggestion takes aim the four corporations that own the four networks plus cable properties (although Disney Corp., which owns ABC, supports the plan, according to NAB). It would prohibit acquisitions that give an entity a total viewing share of more than 30 percent in a market, including any cable channels it owns.

The NAB also calls for and end to restrictions on an entity owning two of the four top stations in the market, or even owning a market's two top stations. The NAB plan would also allow entities to own three stations in a single market as long as only two were among the markets top four.

In a May 28 letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, NAB says it understands proposals now before the commission would allow local cable operators to own local television stations and raise the nationwide ownership cap, moves NAB says would strengthen networks and cable companies.

"The changes in other rules that the Commission is contemplating make the need for local television rule changes even more compelling," NAB wrote. "Stations that will face stronger competitors will need the ability to meet this new competition through greater operating efficiencies and through leveraging expensive news operations."

The NAB proposal comes a week after the organization floated an earlier duopoly scheme. A May 22 proposal suggests allowing mergers as long as the combinations do not involve the two top-rated stations in a single market. If the FCC didn't like that, NAB suggested a three-tiered duopoly policy, prohibiting mergers of top-four stations in the top 25 markets, of top-three stations in medium 26th through 75th markets, and of top-two stations in the remaining markets.

That NAB filing, just 10 days before the FCC's expected ruling on several major ownership rules, abandoned a still-earlier proposal, the "10/10" test, in which duopolies would have been permitted as long as at least one of the two stations had a market share less than 10.

The NAB says the new proposal has the support of several companies represented on its board including Albritton, Banks Broadcasting, Barrington Broadcasting, Belo, Citadel Communications, Cox Television, Dispatch Broadcast Group, Emmis Television, Fisher Broadcasting, Hearst-Argyle Television, Liberty, Media General, Paxson, Post-Newsweek Stations, Raycom, Scripps Broadcasting, Tribune and Young Broadcasting.

Opponents of looser local and national ownership rules, meanwhile, have kept up their fight, mustering hundreds of thousands of comments to the commission through a wide range of groups. And Common Cause and are making Rupert Murdoch the face of media consolidation with television and print ads.

The TV ad, which began May 29 in New York, depicts a frustrated viewer finding the News Corp. chief on every channel and ends with the tag line, "This monopoly is no game."

The print ads, in The New York Times, Washington Post and Variety, show Murdoch and warns: "This Man Wants to Control the News in America. The FCC Wants to Help Him."

A spokesman said the spot ran on both CNN and Fox News Channel in New York on Time Warner Cable. Comcast turned down the ad for its Washington, D.C., system, but the group scheduled a spot on ABC's "This Week" talk program Sunday morning on WJLA, an affiliate owned by Albritton Communications.