Talking TV: NAB’s LeGeyt ‘Very Disappointed’ In FCC’s Ownership Decision
The FCC’s decision to reaffirm ownership regulations for broadcasters late last month was the Christmas gift no station group wanted, even if it didn’t come as much of a surprise to any of them.
For NAB, there’s no other way to see the move than as a blow, and it’s one from which the organization must now pick itself up, dust itself off and regroup for next steps.
In this Talking TV conversation, Curtis LeGeyt, NAB’s president and CEO, says he’s “tremendously frustrated” with the FCC’s decision, and that the group is still weighing the next legal steps it can take to put broadcasters on a more level footing with its unregulated competitors.
LeGeyt also lays out NAB’s priorities for the year, which include an April conference that continues to expand its tent with CES-like ambitions for content creators from all media platforms to find a home.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Happy New Year and welcome to our first 2024 edition of Talking TV. I’m Michael Depp, the editor of TVNewsCheck, and today I am with Curtis LeGeyt, the president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. We’re going to be talking about that very unhappy holiday gift from the FCC to the broadcast industry, as well as the NAB’s priorities for TV broadcasters this year. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Happy New Year, Curtis LeGeyt, and welcome to Talking TV.
Curtis LeGeyt: Great to see you, Michael. How are you? Happy New Year.
Thanks for joining me so soon in the new year. Curtis, the FCC gave broadcasters a very unwelcome Christmas present when it reaffirmed and then even tightened its network and TV station ownership limits. This was obviously a big blow, and it comes despite your lobbying efforts. So, what happens next? What’s your next move?
Well, as you point out, you know that the order from the FCC came out right before — or immediately during — the holiday week. And so, we are still spending the time going through the final item. But suffice it to say, we are very, very disappointed, and I’m confident that there are policymakers in Washington, D.C., especially on Capitol Hill, who are going to be disappointed as well.
I think there is significant awareness across Washington of the challenges facing local newsrooms across the country. We have been working with members on Capitol Hill for years on legislative efforts to level the playing field with big tech. You know, we are competing, both television and radio, in an environment where we’re competing for audience and advertising dollars with players all across the media landscape. Yet the FCC’s ownership rules are premised on the idea that broadcasters only compete against other broadcasters.
So, it’s tremendously disappointing that after sitting on this item — and let’s dwell on the fact that this is the 2018 Quadrennial Review — after sitting on this item for so many years that the FCC not only would have left the current rules intact, but in some ways use this opportunity to re-regulate in a way that is going to have a detrimental impact on smaller television markets. So, we’re tremendously frustrated.
Is your best hope here ultimately getting a Republican in the White House?
Well, I wouldn’t say that. There are people on both sides of the aisle — Democrats and Republicans — who are tremendously invested in ensuring that there is a viable business model for local newsrooms. If you look at the media landscape over the past decade, broadcasters are growing our newsrooms. We are investing in local communities and filling the void that has been created by the collapse of the local newspaper industry.
And so, I think members of Congress on both sides of the aisle see that. I have every belief that whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican administration, there is a real awareness of the need for local broadcasters to be able to compete. And in some cases, having increased scale is going to be a part of that.
So, we’re going to make our arguments at both the FCC, at the administration and the White House, regardless of which party is in power. But, you know, we are tremendously disappointed that the current FCC can’t see what I think is obvious even at the holiday dinner table when I talk to my mother or father, that the way that audiences are consuming our content has changed dramatically, yet the FCC’s rules haven’t kept up with it.
Well, preserving localism is ostensibly, for the Democrats on the FCC, that’s their prerogative here, and obviously the station owners are extremely concerned that this has exactly the opposite effect, that it’s going to be corrosive and damaging to local newsrooms. To your knowledge, is there any research about the impact that a lack of consolidation would have on local news production?
So, look, I think the newspaper industry speaks for itself. And what I’m focused on is ensuring that broadcasters have the ability, when audiences are cord cutting, to ensure viable revenue streams. We know that the major tech players, Facebook and Google, have absolutely eaten up the marketplace for digital advertising. And we see that audiences are fleeing the traditional ecosystem.
And in light of that, how do broadcasters compete, not go the way of the newspaper industry, without increasing where they choose to do it some scale, both in the local markets and in the national markets?
I think it is very, very difficult to justify how tightening the ownership rules is going to enable broadcasters to achieve the scale, to invest in the type of local journalism that our audiences have come to expect, as well as to innovate. So that’s really where we are focused right now, advocating for greater scale.
You know, we’re really heartened by the fact that looking up on Capitol Hill, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which is legislation that would enable broadcasters to gain some scale when we’re negotiating with the tech platforms for our content when it’s accessed online. That passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year and demonstrates, to your question of Republican versus Democrat, we can work with both sides of the aisle.
There are significant Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill who are behind that legislation, which aims in a different way to level the playing field with big tech. We wish the FCC would take an honest look at the marketplace in the same way that our friends on Capitol Hill have.
Well, so to that end, do we need a study or studies to quantify the real potential damage now wrought by this decision? And if we do, who would best execute that?
Well, we have put plenty of evidence in the record as to the state of the local broadcast marketplace and example after example where scale in local markets has resulted in increased investment in local journalism. So, the record, in our view, speaks for itself.
We are certainly examining our legal options, as are individual companies throughout the broadcast industry. But I would expect that there will be legal challenges brought to this order. And our hope is that the record will speak for itself in justifying that these rules no longer represent their stated objectives of the Communications Act.
Well, moving past this, which is sort of like saying: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” I wonder what else is on the NAB’s agenda this year? What are you prioritizing?
Absolutely. Well, first and foremost is the further growth of the NAB Show. You know, we are just thrilled with the way that the show has bounced back. We’ve now had two shows coming out of the pandemic and the fact that we had 65,000 people in Las Vegas last year, another 12,000 people in New York. We’re obviously building a digital platform to connect our NAB community the other 358 days of the year where they’re not in Las Vegas and they’re not in New York.
We’re gonna be building some additional opportunities to come together around that. I think it demonstrates that with all of this disruption that we are talking about here, that our business leaders and the technology companies that really enable us to create content, distribute it, monetize it, they’ve got real reason to be in person together. And so, we are thrilled with what lies ahead. You know, we’re three months out now from the 2024 show in Vegas. Expect that to be an even larger experience, new innovative experiences on the show floor. So, we’re excited for that.
You know, on the advocacy front, we are going to continue the deployment of ATSC 3.0. The FCC took a huge step last year in its Future of Television initiative, which the NAB has been asked to lead, and we are doing that. Really, this agency putting its imprimatur through that initiative on the fact that this transition needs to go from where it is right now, where you’ve got roughly 60% of the country with access to an ATSC 3.0 signal, to a full nationwide deployment.
This is very, very complicated. You know, we are not the wireless industry where any one individual company can just decide to upgrade. This requires an entire industry rowing in the same direction with the cooperation of the set manufacturers and the consumer groups, as well as our partners on the pay TV side, and I think you’re going to see real continued progress thanks to NAB’s leadership in that regard.
Just to jump in on that one, are we talking there about the task force that [FCC] Chair Jessica Rosenworcel talked about at last year’s NAB Show?
We are. Yes, so immediately following the NAB Show that task force was initiated. You know, there are three different working groups within that task force, each of which has held several meetings and will be issuing a report back to the FCC on the status of any number of issues relating to this deployment.
But I think the importance of this is rather than trying to get to a nationwide transition through just comment filing at the FCC on an issue specific basis, what that initiative enables us to do is really come together and talk about what are the technological hurdles, how do we get through them, what is the policy need to look like in a post 3.0 landscape?
And how do we ensure that no consumers are left behind? Broadcasters are absolutely vested in making sure that every consumer that wants to access a free over-the-air signal has the ability to do it, and they’re going to have an even more enhanced set of programing and a better experience through 3.0.
So, this initiative is a huge part of our agenda for 2024, as is, you know, further progress on ensuring that when our content is used, whether it’s by the large tech platforms or through the emerging generative AI technologies that are relying on news content to fuel their systems and their benefits to consumers and businesses, that local broadcasters are fairly compensated for the use of our content.
So, we’ve got a full plate here. You touched on the Quadrennial Review and the work that we need to do there to ensure a level playing field for broadcasters, But we’ve got a full agenda on Capitol Hill as well as it relates to our TV membership.
Let me just circle back to the shows for a second. In April. I should mention, of course, that TVNewsCheck is a conference partner with our Programing Everywhere event for April 14th there, which we’re very much looking forward to bringing back. Register now.
I wonder — your expectations seem to … I mean the show is bouncing back from the pandemic. Can you ever scale those 100,000-plus attendee heights again? Is that possible anymore?
I think it is possible. The response — and this is across the trade show industry — but I think the demonstrated bounce back of trade shows following the pandemic illustrates that you know, in spite of our increasingly online and digitally connected world, there is a unique value proposition to being together in person, especially when it comes to innovations.
And so, there’s no doubt in my mind that this model of bringing folks together, whether it’s predominantly in Las Vegas or spread across a number of different, more geographically centered events, that there is a demand for it.
We are still trying to make a determination on how we best cater to the NAB audience on an ongoing basis. But I think there is no doubt that given all of the evolution happening in media, you know, in some ways this industry, much in the same way that, you know, the consumer electronics industry became the nexus for, you know, a whole bunch of ancillary players, whether you’re talking about health care or auto, to convene and talk about what innovation meant for those spaces.
I think the NAB Show provides a real opportunity as content production is happening not just at NBC, CBS, Disney, Fox, but instead it’s happening, you know, at major streaming services, but also, you know, in the living room, a place where you can convene and learn about the latest technologies in content creation, the latest trends.
It has broad appeal, it has cross-sector appeal, and we’re going to continue to expand that. So, I’m not sure if the 100,000 will necessarily be simply in Las Vegas, but I think spread across the full NAB portfolio that we plan to grow over the next several years, we see real opportunities to cater to the space.
It sounds like you have a kind of CES-style vision for the thing becoming more expansive then, in that way.
Yeah, I just think that right now we do a great job of servicing broadcasters. You know, this show was created by broadcasters, has really fostered innovation in broadcast, but the reality of this show over the last decade in its growth is to the larger media landscape. And as you know, that landscape is only becoming more complicated, it’s only becoming more significant.
There are such real dramatic questions about some of the business models that are out there in media right now. And the NAB Show is going to be the place where business leaders can explore all of it, where technologists can come together. We’re really excited.
And it sounds like you’re still pretty firmly behind the NAB New York show as well, that that’s fixed on the calendar. I know it is for this year, obviously going ahead. But in the long term, do you see that show as having longevity?
I do see it as having longevity because, you know, what it allows is for those companies who have demoed particular products out in Las Vegas, it allows for them to create a more hands-on experience, a practical one in New York. It also provides us access to a very, very different audience. Yes, just geographically it’s on a different coast. But I think beyond that, the access to Madison Avenue to Wall Street opens up opportunities for our industry that we can’t just necessarily get in Las Vegas. So, there’s a lot of real potential for how we continue to build out NAB New York.
Do you see other regional shows in the mix potentially as well?
Well, I think we’ve got to continue to evaluate where those needs are. But I certainly think, you know, there is major content creation happening in emerging markets across the country. That is something that we can certainly capitalize on. You know, we are continuing to look overseas as to what opportunities might exist there. This is about expanding the NAB Show community.
And, you know, we’re not looking to create redundant experiences where we recapture the same audiences in different places. It’s about expanding our footprint and I think there’s real opportunities to do it, both by increasing our geographic diversity, but also by offering something that’s maybe a little different, more specific than what you can get at a huge show in Las Vegas.
One last thing I want to ask you: The vMVPD issue was a bruising one for broadcasters last year, with both the affiliates and the networks launching their separate respective lobbying efforts over negotiating rights. What is the NAB’s role in this? Can you serve as a mediator in this dispute?
Well, listen, I’m tremendously disappointed that the FCC hasn’t acted to refresh the record in the vMVPD proceeding. Now, this goes back to the points we were discussing with regard to the Quadrennial Review. The world around local broadcasters has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and yet the FCC pretends it is the status quo, and audiences have dramatically changed the way they’re accessing broadcast content.
Broadcasters are competing with large tech companies for market share, for advertising dollar. Yet these rules are premised on a 1990s and 2000-era media landscape. So, as it relates to vMVPD, we’re simply asking the FCC to take a look at the changes in the way that consumers are accessing broadcast content increasingly through these over-the-top streaming services. What impact is that having on local broadcast? We’ve asked them to refresh the record.
We obviously have support on Capitol Hill for that. You know, 21 Senate Democrats, including the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Maria Cantwell, have written to Chair Rosenworcel and asked her to refresh the record in this proceeding, and we’re waiting on a response there. So, I’m tremendously frustrated.
At the same time, the relationship between the networks and the affiliates is a very, very important partnership, NAB is going to help to facilitate that partnership, that we have an unbeatable combination when the networks and the affiliates are aligned within our big tent producing, you know, must have sports journalism, national and local combined with the most-watched programing. And that is how we compete in a media landscape with Apple, Amazon and I’m going to continue to urge my networks and my affiliates to invest in that partnership.
It’s not good for anyone when mom and dad are fighting all the time, is it?
That is certainly one way to put it. I’m grateful for the service that both the affiliates and the networks are providing to communities across this country. I think those ingredients are tremendously important in a world in which we’re just overrun by tech misinformation.
Well, Curtis LeGeyt, you’ve got a busy year ahead of you, an important year for yourself and the NAB. So, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
All right, Michael, thank you so much for the time.
And thanks to all of you for watching and listening. You can catch past episodes of Talking TV at TVNewsCheck.com and on our YouTube channel as well as an audio version of the podcast available most places you get your podcasts. We are back most Fridays with a new episode. Thanks for watching this one and see you next time.