Attendees of NAB hoping to hear one of the most influential media company CEOs talk about the plethora of fascinating topics facing his world - from the future of one of the biggest shows on the air to just what the hell he makes of Netflix in a post-House of Cards world - left his Q&A like so many others who visit Las Vegas: empty-handed. That was the buzz from more than a few people Tuesday in Sin City.
A Q&A featuring NAB chief Gordon Smith interviewing CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves should have been the cherry on top of a great morning at NAB. It started off with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski facing the music in front of a throng of spectrum-weary broadcasters, and while the FCC chair didn’t lob many grenades, just the anticipation of his speech and what felt like a barely-trusting dance between speaker and attendees in that environment made for interesting theater to say the least.
Next up was Smith giving his state of broadcasting speech, and while it was definitely bordering on cheerleading from a content standpoint, it was an extremely well-delivered and entertaining chat from the head of the NAB. With the cadence of a seasoned politician that he is, Smith played to the home crowd with a passionate stance on the spectrum crunch (”We already gave at the office”) and other factors facing the broadcasting industry, which at NAB you could feel has been infused with some much needed-optimism after a few years in a very dark place.
Rounding out the morning of big hitters was Smith interviewing Moonves. And while no one expected this to be anywhere near a hard-hitting interview, especially being promoted as discussing the state of broadcasting, it just left too much to be desired. It was a series of softballs tossed up for Moonves to launch out of the park like they had been offered by a Chicago Cubs pitcher facing Barry Bonds after the former slugger had just visited his pharmacist.
A couple questions to rally the masses around the spectrum debate and the importance of broadcasting were appropriate to be sure, as were a few softballs to let Moonves crow about the impressive job he has done steering the CBS Corporation through the economic tsunami, during which his company was often derided for its relatively undiversified portfolio as Madison Avenue suffered.
But when you have Leslie Moonves, there are certain things the audience deserves to hear about, a certain level of discourse is almost mandatory, especially in front of a gathering of industry execs. How about at least a few questions about how he is dealing with issues like Netflix and the evolving pipeline questions, as well as his thoughts on the fascinating and uber-timely iPad debates in the cable world, are just a few of the topics that it is hard to imagine omitting when you have someone of Moonves’ influence and vision in front of a industry crowd. Yes, those are not technically state of broadcasting questions, but actually they are: looking at your business in a vacuum is a sure-fire way to failure.
And I don’t care about Charlie Sheen’s silly antics, but the future of Two and a Half Men, a massive show both on the CBS network and in its syndicated runs, is an important one to stations. Didn’t come up.
There is room for softballs, but the audience also deserves more than just a half-hour cheerleading session, which followed Smith’s own (rightfully given) rah-rah speech himself. And I know from experience Moonves doesn’t duck anything, having recently chatted with him on stage myself in a fun, honest and fascinating hour at an Intel event, and reading the interviews he has done in recent issues of B&C with our reporters.
This is not meant as a knock at Smith whatsoever, as he carried out in fine fashion what he and his staff had decided to do - and again - his half-hour monologue before Moonves took the stage was engaging to be sure. And the long cab lines in Vegas showed that the NAB show itself was bustling.
But overall the half-hour with Leslie Moonves could have really been educational and impactful without losing the understandably-necessary, pro-broadcaster rhetoric. The event called for it, and the attendees at NAB deserved it..