Editorial: Seize the Day

Broacasters are in a fight for their future and it's time for them to stand up and say "I'm not going to take this anymore."

It is not overstating the case to say that broadcasters are facing one of
the most pivotal moments in the history of the medium. They are in
a fight for their future. And when it comes to letting the wireless and
consumer electronics industries badmouth them as squatters and obstructionists,
they need to throw open the window and yell as loud as
they can: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Back in the late 1980s, the momentum was all
for creating an analog sideband HDTV system until
a better way came along—digital—and suddenly
that plan was instantly outdated. That was
a pivotal moment, with a flawed plan overtaken
by a better one.

Broadcasters are faced with momentum behind
another plan, this one to free up spectrum from
broadcasters, but a plan that could leave those
broadcasters with fewer competitive options and
de facto second-class citizenship status compared
to broadband.

It is hard to argue against the broadband revolution,
and nobody is. Of course, broadband is a
transformative technology. We’re just saying that
broadcasters aren’t the enemy. They are more like
a national treasure in the path of an advancing
army with a laudable goal of connecting America
to a ubiquitous medium, though there is some
irony in the fact that they are already connected
to one: It’s called broadcasting.

Broadcasting can potentially be used to handle
the explosion in broadband while still maintaining
a service that serves millions over the air and
the rest over a wire or a satellite. Remember, by
far the most popular cable networks are TV stations.
Those cable networks, looked at one way,
are the wired antennas—admittedly, really long
ones—that deliver local broadcasting service into
the home alongside all those national cable nets.
CATV, after all, originally stood for “Community
Antenna Television.”

If it were so easy to replicate cable-only models
of TV stations, cable operators wouldn’t be paying
all those broadcasters for their signals.

On this page last week, we gave you our take on
what we would like to hear from FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski, which was a recognition of
the value of broadcasters not as an ancillary service,
or as good sports who could move out of the
way quietly when the broadband wagon paraded
through town, but as a partner in a media future
they helped shape.

But broadcasters, too, must make themselves
heard loud and clear over the broadband din,
with strong actions as well as words.
If there was ever a time for broadcasters to
make like Wynton Marsalis and blow their own
horn, it is now.
Broadcasters have a great story to tell, including
a brighter financial picture for their core business
and opportunities for growth in ancillary services.

“With an improving economy, we see renewed
appreciation for the value broadcasters create,”
says one broker looking to drum up business at
NAB. With the M&A market heating up, or at
least thawing out, it is time to be creating more
value and making the value they already have inescapable
in Washington.

The National Association of Broadcasters has
talked about holding the industry “harmless” in the
broadband spectrum push, but the FCC should be
doing more than that. It should be proactively valuing
the medium for all the reasons that both the commission
and the Obama administration were valuing
it during the DTV transition.

For their part, broadcasters must convert on
the digital dividend with more multicast channels
(kudos to Bounce TV, by the way), a competitive
mobile DTV system, and likely some new overthe-
air technology or service a broadcaster’s kid is
dreaming up in a garage or dorm room. Yes, that’s
right: Those venues and their innovative inhabitants
are not the sole province of Silicon Valley.

Or, put another way, broadcasters must figure out
what to do if the FCC does not put on the brakes.

They must make doubly sure they are covering
their local politicians, issuing Amber alerts, providing
sometimes wall-to-wall storm and disaster
coverage, raising millions of dollars for charity,
and donating their time and attention to myriad
community projects.

Or, put another way, what most have been doing
all along.