Robert Wright, the CEO of NBC, spoke at the National Press Club on January 24, providing a revealing glimpse into the thinking of one of the people at the top of the TV industry. One surprise was that for someone in such a powerful position, he sure does feel sorry for himself. Here’s a sample:
In recent years, our competitors in cable, radio and just this past December the satellite industry have been deregulated. But the rules governing the broadcast industry have barely changed in 50 years.... The result is that today broadcasters find themselves in the 21st Century Web-based economy while constrained by a 50-year-old regulatory straitjacket constructed when radio was king.
Putting aside the fact that radio is part of the broadcast industry and not a competitor, it’s ridiculous to say that the TV industry hasn’t been deregulated in the past 50 years. Just to name two examples, limits on the number of stations a network can own have been greatly expanded, while regulations limiting the amount of financial interest networks can have in their programming have been virtually eliminated.
The government has also guaranteed the networks billions of dollars worth of new digital broadcast spectrum, free of charge, which might have gone to other, perhaps non-commercial entities. But when this huge giveaway was mentioned, Wright first laughed that the question was hardly worth talking about, and then offered the self-serving explanation that anything but the giveaway would have been
really an issue of having the government take away from us our business. Businesses that had taken, in many cases, 20 and 30 years to develop, where people had invested in those businesses a lot of money in the start-up between the heyday of radio and television.
NBC’s CEO went on to say that NBC is “the leader” in reporting critical information on its parent company General Electric (“We probably overreport,” he claimed), and to compare the idea of making networks pay for the use of the public airwaves to Fidel Castro nationalizing the DuPont family’s golf course in Cuba.