National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith told an NAB convention opening session audience in Las Vegas Monday (April 13) that broadcasting continued to be as relevant as ever, and even moreso in an age where so-called cable news was filled with partisan bickering.
He also called on broadcasters to find ways to do more with less, the more being more ways to serve their local audience, the less being the spectrum they will have after the incentive auction.
In his speech, Smith distinguished broadcasting from its pay TV and online competition, saying the latter were filled with debates over dress colors (blue and black, gold and white), or gossip about Kim and Kanye, or "crass and degrading" material.
As for pay TV, he slammed "so-called news" filled with a shouting contest of partisan bickering.
He quoted his former colleague, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who told an NAB State Leadership conference in Washington recently that with the cable news so polarized and partisan, local news was even more valuable.
Local broadcast TV news, Smith said, is "where Americans turn when they want "just the facts with no yelling, screaming and finger pointing."
Smith suggested that broadcasters needed to paint a picture for policymakers of what life would be like without broadcasting, similar to the Potterville picture of life without George Bailey in the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life.
"We can't take what we have for granted and we have to work together to remind policymakers of broadcasting's immense value to their communities," he said.
Smith conceded that given the $45 billion ponied up by wireless companies for AWS-3 spectrum, "broadcasters have begun to look more seriously at the possibility of participating in the upcoming incentive auction." Fox, Ion, and Tribune are among the groups that have signaled such interest.
But Smith also said the one refrain he has haerd is that participation "is contingent on the FCC getting the auction rules right."
NAB has, in fact, sued the FCC to insure that it gets them right.
Smith said that means allowing the market to set the price of a channel.
"If the Commission can stay out of the way, I believe we can have a successful incentive auction," he said, but added that he was also concerned about life beyond the zeros on auction payouts. "[R]egardless of the specific outcome, I am most concerned about what emerges following the auction," he said.
He said that following the auction, there will likely still be 80% of full power stations left, but with only 60% of spectrum--some broadcasters will likely share spectrum, which allows them to still get a payout and stay in businesses.
Smith said broadcasters have a "key choice." To do more or less with less. He favors more, which he says will require "the best thinking among us to devise ways and to encourage those investments necessary to preserve broadcasting's value and to be there, more important than ever in service to the American people."
"Every other industry is innovating and advancing their technologies," he said, adding that broadcasters must do so, also, as both a defensive and offensive play. "Defensively, we would protect our ability to easily integrate with existing partners," he said.
"Offensively, it would give us the flexibility to choose and pursue the promise of ultra HD, targeted advertising, datacasting, mobility and enhanced multicasting on a shared channel."