Editorial: Unite and Conquer4/15/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
“We must seize the opportunities that new technology platforms
present to broadcasters. Otherwise, we are essentially handing
our competitors the keys to our future.” That was the rallying cry,
and warning, of National Association of Broadcasters president/
CEO Gordon Smith at last week’s annual convention in Las Vegas.
Smith was speaking to a crowd of broadcasters
understandably concerned about how the FCC
will subdivide their spectrum real estate—the
commission has pledged no eminent domain-like
takings—to make way for the broadband
superhighway; how they will compete with new
technologies if still yoked to regulations suited to
the days of three channels; and the prospect of
having a court, or courts, hand the keys to online
competitors (see Aereo, Aereokiller, et al).
Then there is the big variable: an economy that
is looking up, at least until the next game of congressional
chicken with the national debt.
There are reasons for broadcasters to be concerned
about their fate, but not resigned to a fate
dictated by others. That includes seeking a united
front on mobile DTV, which has challenges
enough without broadcasters adding to them by
dividing their energies.
Buzz intensified at NAB around the idea of a
merger between the Mobile500 alliance and Dyle
after members of both outfits said on a panel that
a hookup could happen soon.
We applaud the idea; a joint effort on bringing
live TV to lots of smartphones and tablets
couldn’t come soon enough. And an obvious top
priority once the industry is united on mobile
DTV is finding a way to incentivize and partner
with smartphone manufacturers to get built-in
receivers placed in as many devices as possible—
before the window of time when the viewing
public is, er, receptive to the idea of watching
their local stations on mobile closes.
In the same NAB appearance that News Corp.
president/COO Chase Carey offered fighting
words to protect the Fox Broadcasting signal
from live streaming forces such as Aereo from
“stealing” it, Carey also underlined how crucial
the national-local partnership is. He said
the affiliate-network relationship is the core of
Fox’s business and the reason why the network
re-joined the NAB. “We’re stronger together,” he
said, noting that business challenges such as retrans
negotiations and sorting through TV Everywhere
options can be met as long as they are approached
together and with “a sense of fairness.”
It is a challenge to keep up with the technological
innovations getting their tires kicked on the
NAB Show floor. And it is impossible not to see
a strong future for broadcasters
in all that innovation, and
the money put into pitching
the industry on the latest
high-tech gear, so long as
broadcasters work together
to make it happen.
Of course, that will also
require Washington not to
be the dream killer by getting
the incentive auctions
wrong or continuing to
punt on media ownership
reforms, or any reforms that
could allow broadcasters to
better compete with new
This could be a time for new beginnings. It is a
new Congress, there will be a new FCC chairman,
and last week House Communications Subcommittee
chairman Greg Walden vowed vigorous
oversight of the incentive auctions with an eye
toward coming out the other side with a vibrant,
not just viable, broadcasting business.
But Washington can only do so much—and
frequently doesn’t do much that it could do.
Broadcasters must be committed to experimentation,
innovation and investment in new ways of
packaging and delivering content.
Smith said last week that may ultimately include
a new transmission standard. The FCC
has approved a Sinclair-backed effort to test new
transmission approaches. Broadcasters beyond
that group should take advantage of that opportunity.
The FCC has signaled it is willing to entertain
similar testing of new communications ideas,
and broadcasters should have plenty of those.
Smith said he was optimistic about broadcasting’s
future. Of course, we would expect no less out
of the NAB president at a convention scene-setter.
But broadcasters, through creativity, perseverance
and commitment, can prove Smith right.