Broadcasters have long had one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington. But it now seems that the National Association of Broadcasters has met its match — an equally powerful outfit known as the National Association of Broadcasters. Yes, that’s right — NAB, under new president David Rehr, has been shooting quite effective bullets recently at itself.
The battle was triggered by the proposed merger between XM and Sirius Satellite Radio. NAB has gone on the warpath against the merger, arguing that it would create a monopoly. Of course, to argue that, it has to argue that broadcast radio doesn’t compete with satellite radio. That argument, however, was rebutted by NAB’s David Rehr (yes, the same one), who just last year gave a stirring speech about broadcast radio’s satellite competitors, declaring:
In 2006 we have satellite and Internet radio. And barely a day passes without the introduction of a new competing device or service. And we have news for our competitors: “We will beat you — as we have beaten those change agents in the past.”
The NAB, however, is far less optimistic. “A local radio station’s programming is not a reasonable alternative to the array of services offered by XM or Sirius,” Rehr recently wrote.
But Mr. Rehr (circa last fall) isn’t so awed by the satellite guys, saying “Their business models are bankrupt.” He is also more bullish on broadcast radio’s strengths than is the pessimistic Mr. Rehr: “We are building our future on our greatest asset — localism. No one can compete with us in this arena.”
This week the fight between the two powerful lobbies escalated further. In response to a study by George Mason’s Tom Hazlett that found the XM-Sirius merger would benefit consumers, an NAB spokesman said:
This report defies logic. The study’s contention that consumers would benefit from a monopoly merger of the only two satellite radio services is laughable, as evidenced by the fact that Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America are opposing the merger.”
This blanket endorsement of CU and CFA as the ultimate authority on what benefits consumers is startling. Its a clear slap in the face by NAB against NAB, given the fact that both groups have long supported strict regulations on broadcast ownership — many of which NAB has said are anti-consumer. In fact the groups have called NAB’s work on the issue “misleading and irresponsible,” and even “fraudulent.”
I can’t imagine how NAB will respond to this implicit attack on its integrity.
This is a lobbying war worth watching.