New NAB President Gordon Smith responds to CEA President Gary Shapiro’s letter to the editor regarding the “cash-for-spectrum” proposal. Smith says that in today’s blended digital-rich media environment, where consumers expect program content in the home and on the go, the inherent value of a locally based broadcast business model will be critical to its overall success. “With open minds, I’m confident that we will find more agreements than differences with our friends in the consumer electronics business.”
From the title of the original editorial, it was clear that the trajectory of your story was betrayal of one industry by another. In this case, the premise was the consumer electronics industry’s alleged betrayal of broadcasters (who have unquestionably enriched manufacturers with compelling services for HDTV set products after decades of development) by suggesting that broadcasters’ current use of spectrum may not be justifiable in light of the growing need for expanded broadband service capacity.
With his honor and motives under siege, Gary Shapiro reacted predictably, falling into the familiar pattern whereby the champion of one industry vents frustration by criticizing the actions of another.
Obviously there is history here and I leave it to pundits and historians to work out proper documentation for the archives. However, as the new president and CEO of NAB, I’m interested more in seizing opportunities in the future than searching for blame in the past.
As a newcomer representing broadcasters and as a longtime participant in the political world, I find four basic premises that rise above the rhetoric.
First, it is clear to me that broadcasting is a public trust and a public service; its measure should not be established simply by cold calculations based on embedded capital investment. The American people themselves are invested in broadcasting, an investment that pays dividends every day with subscription-less news, information and entertainment available to all Americans when they want it, when they need it and in emergency situations when their lives may depend on it.
The CEA-funded study may have showed rigor in its mathematics. At its core, however, it represented a soulless analysis completely lacking in accuracy or understanding of the immeasurable value of broadcast spectrum for consumers.
Second, I have been struck by the resolve of broadcasters in the Herculean task of completing the digital transition, a transition that was fundamentally disruptive to a longstanding business model. The demonstrated ability of broadcasters to successfully navigate this technological storm — while also weathering the worst advertising downturn in 50 years — stands as a testament to the flexibility, adaptability and strategic vision of America’s local and network broadcasters.
I have no doubt that as media distribution and consumption evolves further, broadcasters will also continue to evolve as its strongest participants.
Third, I am astounded by the opportunities presented by digital television. In contrast to Mr. Shapiro’s assessment, I submit that HDTV continues to be a consistent centerpiece of broadcasters’ digital offerings, along with an ever-growing number of high-quality multicast services. And the deal clincher for the broadcasters’ case for spectrum is mobile DTV.
Not only will mobile DTV be a much appreciated application on its own merit for those with handheld devices of various types, I also see tremendous synergies between broadband and broadcast services for the enrichment of consumers.
Mobile broadcasts that can be enhanced with Web content through broadband networks will be a highly sought application by all consumers. Moreover, broadband networks that can access over-the-air broadcast signals at a time of mass shared desire (such as the World Series) or mass shared need (such as a major natural disaster) will avoid the inevitable inefficiencies of capacity-constrained broadband networks.
Fourth, it is apparent to me that Americans are living in an era of blended media convergence. We have laptops with broadcast DTV capability, and set-top boxes and DVRs that seamlessly capture, organize and integrate video programming and other rich media from cable, over-the-air and wireless broadband sources.
Today’s mobile phones provide Internet radio, FM radio and soon HD radio, with mobile DTV looming on the horizon. Our futures are intermingled. Citing selective statistics regarding one media distribution’s spectrum value versus another may have been a valuable exercise in the era of an either/or analog world. But in today’s blended digital-rich media environment, where consumers expect program content in the home and on the go, the converging media ecosystem will only grow, and the inherent value of a locally based broadcast business model will be critical to its overall success.
NAB looks forward to taking part in the ongoing dialogue on the National Broadband Plan. With open minds, I’m confident that we will find more agreements than differences with our friends in the consumer electronics business. In my view, the best solutions will flow from our collaborative efforts, not from a TV spectrum raid that only deepens the digital divide and leaves millions without the free service offerings provided by America’s original wireless industry — local broadcasters.
Gordon Smith, president, National Association of Broadcasters