Editorial: Twenty Questions10/25/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
It has been almost two decades since Broadcasting & Cable created
its Hall of Fame. At the time, we decided that, having been around for
almost all of the medium’s history (Broadcasting launched on Oct.
15, 1931), it was high time we started to honor the pioneers of the
business we had been chronicling since its infancy.
For much of that first Hall of Fame class, we were
playing catch-up, as it were, as 60 industry standouts
became inaugural inductees (in honor of our
then 60th anniversary). Our goal was to look back
on how far the industry had come since the day
in 1916 when David Sarnoff, then assistant traffic
manager of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co., proposed
developing a wireless music box.
Sarnoff, of course, begat RCA and NBC, which
begat NBC Universal, which hopes to do some
begating with Comcast, bringing the past into the
future, and tying broadcasting together with cable
in a single sentence.
So on this, the 20th anniversary of our Hall of
Fame, we thought we would look ahead a little
to see what Hall of Famers over the next 20 years
will need to do.
The primary challenge will be to figure out how
the media business gets from here to there, and
just exactly where “there” will be. Back at that
60th anniversary (in 1991), we talked about electronic
media and publishing going through “future
shock.” That comment applies double and appears today to be on steroids.
Broadcasters cannot simply try to defend their
turf, though they will have to do some of that to
keep from becoming a footnote to the story of the
rise of broadband. Cable executives, meanwhile,
will need to decide what the balance of their business
is going to be. Cable operators are in the midst
of their own migration to digital, but their future
may instead be online video services, particularly if
the FCC succeeds in turning set-tops into universal
gateways to a broadband world.
Futurists, like the ones B&C
talked to for its first Hall of
Fame special issue, need to
think hard about whether the
fact that something can now be
done online and faster than before
is necessarily an unalloyed
benefit. It is hard to raise that
issue without being tagged a
Luddite, but it is probably one
of the most important in an age
when information travels faster
than our ability to comprehend
Programmers will have more
places to put content, but the
challenge will come with trying
to monetize that fragmented
audience so that they can put sufficient quality
on the screen to lure enough eyeballs.
What they all must be guided by reflects what
has been the goal of this editorial page since Vol. 1,
Issue 1: full First Amendment rights for the electronic
The good news is that if past is prologue, the
combined talents of executives like those being
honored this week in New York will find a way to
manage through adversity and succeed through
creativity—plus requisite guts, and a little luck.
We plan to be around to tell you about it, and
continue to salute those who make their mark on
broadcasting and cable.