NAB's Smith: Broadcasters Must Seize Future Or Concede It To Competitors

Says Broadcasters Can Deliver Mobile TV More Reliably than Wireless Rivals
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TV's future lies in "our willingness to embrace new platforms, and to go where our viewers want to go."

That it is according to National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith, who addressed attendees at the opening session of the NAB's annual trade show in Las Vegas. It may have been overcast and rainy outside, but Smith saw sunshine in broadcasters’ future. “As I look into your faces, I am optimistic about the future that lies ahead for broadcasters,” he said. But that will require work and vision from the industry.

"We must seize the opportunities that new technology platforms present to broadcasters, otherwise, we are essentially handing our competitors the keys to our future," Smith said.

Where those viewers are going is top mobile platforms, and broadcasters can provide mobility via mobile DTV without the congestion caused by online streaming, he said.

Smith said that reliability is broadcasters' trump card when it comes to competing with wireless companies to deliver content to consumers. "Our competitors in the wireless industry want to be part of the mobile TV business… and they are investing a lot of money in this endeavor," he said. "They are even branding their service "mobile TV. But our competitors will never have what we have – the ability to deliver our high-quality content reliably."

And that includes for viewers who want to stay put, he said, suggesting that it was no wiser to put all ones eggs in any single basket than it would be to assume a dance craze would last.

"Consumers want TV where and when they want it," he said, "but they also want it to be live and reliable when the game is on or during times of emergency." He reminded his audience that their audience could be fickle. "Jon Stewart once noted, 'You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn't that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.'

While not committing to pushing for a new TV transmission standard, Smith suggested it was worth some serious tire-kicking. "It is my opinion that television broadcasting should seriously consider the challenges and opportunities of moving to a new standard, allowing stations the flexibility they need to better serve their viewers, compete in a mobile world, and find new revenue streams."

In February, Cunningham Broadcasting's WNUV-TV Baltimore got permission from the FCC to conduct a six-month  test of a "next-generation" broadcast standard that the station argues could help broadcasters be a player in the mobile, multiplatform and ultra-high definition of the video future. That station is operated by under a Local Marketing Agreement by Sinclair, which said other broadcasters would join in the test.  

Smith talked about preserving free speech and the press, saying that it was the keystone for other freedoms. "Whether it's news about a local election, providing critical information during a storm, or uncovering government corruption, broadcasters around the world are united in their mission to inform the public, no matter the cost," he said.

Smith stuck with broad themes and did not get into the weeds of broadcasters' issues with the incentive auctions, arguably the industry's most challenging Washington issue. But he did say that, generally, NAB has "led the charge on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission," arguing it has stopped harmful legislation and shaped legislation to advance and protect broadcasting. He did not specify, but the latter includes broadcasters shaping of the incentive auction legislation to make sure it guaranteed the FCC would work to preserve the coverage area and interference protections of broadcasters who do not participate.