NAB gains strength with return of NBC

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WASHINGTON -- After a seven-year hiatus, NBC Universal is rejoining the National Association of Broadcasters.

NAB, which previously counted all four majors networks as members, was down to only ABC until Monday's announcement. All four had exited the organization when the NAB refused to support raising the ownership cap beyond 35% of the national TV audience. The cap has since been raised by Congress to 39%.

Losing the networks led to a perception on Capitol Hill that the NAB was losing influence and dividing the voice of the broadcast industry. NAB has long been powerful because it can bring local pressure to bear on lawmakers and back it up with corporate muscle. That was somewhat diminished as the networks left.

"We are pleased to rejoin the NAB and help give the broadcast side of our business a powerful and united voice in Washington at a time of incredibly rapid change and numerous legislative challenges," NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker said. "It has never been more important for us to work together to ensure that television broadcasting remains a dynamic and competitive force in the marketplace for many years to come."

NAB president and CEO David Rehr hailed the NBC Universal decision, which coincided with the opening day of the NAB's annual convention in Las Vegas.

"We are delighted to have NBC Universal in NAB," he said. "There is no question that NAB will be stronger as an organization with NBCU as a member. NBC Universal and its owned-and-operated stations have a proven commitment to the highest standards of broadcasting, and we are honored to have this legendary broadcast company in NAB membership."

The company's 10 NBC O&Os also get membership. In addition, Jay Ireland, president of the NBC Universal Television Stations and Network Operations, will be invited to fill a network television seat on the NAB board of directors.

Most of the policy disagreements that led to NBC's withdrawal in 2000 have been resolved, NBC Uni executive vp and general counsel Rick Cotton said.

"The vast majority of the broadcast issues on the table today are ones where the network, the affiliates and the NAB have the same interests," he said. "After a positive meeting with the new leadership, we believe that the issues that led us to withdraw are behind us and unlikely to reassert themselves."

A spokesman for Fox Broadcasting Co. said the network has no plans to join NAB. A spokesman for CBS Corp. declined comment.
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