TVB Confab Works, But Needs Broader Appeal

This year's TVB Forward conference, the first to offer a full day's schedule of events, provided a lively forum for discussing what's happening in broadcasting and what's coming next. But it fell short of its goal to provide a showcase for local broadcasting. One way to draw media and ad buyers would be to replace news personalities with newsmakers.

Kudos to TVB for its slicker, expanded annual Forward Conference, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of around 350 to the Time-Life Building in midtown New York on Wednesday.

I’d say TVB achieved one of its goals — to provide a lively forum for discussing what’s happening in broadcasting and what’s coming next. The conference comprised nine sessions with more than 20 speakers, including presenters and recipients of three awards.

To accommodate all that, TVB stretched the conference from a half day to a full day. The audience was noticeably thinner in the afternoon and maybe too thin by the time the last act came on at around 4 o’lock. But it worked. TVB made it over the midday hump.

It was not only a big crowd, but a quality crowd, including many group  poobahs — David Barrett, Jordan Wertlieb, Rebecca Campbell, David Lougee, Paul Karpowicz, Jane Williams, Phil Lombardo, Ray Cole, Jim Yager, Scott Blumenthal, Mike Fiorile and Marci Burdick. I had a chance to chat with about half of these folks during the breaks.

Burdick, by the way, received two standing ovations in accepting her Broadcaster of the Year Award from B&C. My belated congratulations.

A lot of numbers were thrown around during the day, but my favorite was $13 billion. That, according Wells Fargo securities analyst Marci Ryvicker, is broadcasting’s fair share of the fees that  MVPDs pay to programmers each year based on the audience that broadcasting attracts.


Today, broadcasters account for 35% of TV viewing, yet get only 7% of the fees or $2.6 billion. For the headline on our story of the Ryvicker presentation, our managing editor Mark Miller did the arithmetic: “Stations Losing $10.4B In Retrans.”

Keep that number in your pocket. The next time a cable or satellite operator squawks about broadcasters’ excessive remands demands, pull it out and say, “Hey, you owe me and my broadcasting friends $10.4 billion; let’s not get hung up on an extra two bits a month.”

Ryvicker bought some other interesting numbers with her. Broadcast TV stocks are up 78% this year, blowing away the S&P 500, which could manage only 18%. “That is awesome,” she said. And so it is.

Everything about the conference was a little bit better than it has been in the prior few years — the food and drink, the sound and the video production. And it was interactive.

On each seat was a tiny device, which I thought at first was a calculator. But, no, it was a wireless keypad to record answers from audience members posed by speakers. It was a formula for disaster. But this system worked flawlessly, posting results in 10 seconds and adding another dimension to some of the talks. Most important, it wasn’t overused.

At one point, the audience was asked whether spot TV should move from a CPP to CPM selling model. Seventy-five percent said yes. I am not sure what that means, but I am going to find out. I have already commissioned a story on it.

Ian Beavis, of Nielsen, gave a great good-news, bad-news talk on what’s happening in the auto industry — broadcasters’ No. 1 ad spender. The good news is the industry is booming. The bad news is that car sales (and thus car advertising) are not expected to grow significantly over the next five years.

TVB tried to inject a little pizzazz into the proceeding by recruiting some marquee talent and got mixed results.

Maria Bartiromo of CNBC provided an assessment of the world economic order, a job that in years past was handled by a chief economist of a big Wall Street firm.

Bartiromo gave her basic stump speech, the same ones she probably gives to every trade group, and did not add much to the proceedings.

Speaking in board terms, she reminded everybody that the U.S. economy continues to bump along with corporations hoarding cash due to uncertainty about taxes and regulation. She talked about the on-going revolution in medical technology, the game-changing nature of mobile phones and Mexico’s rising economy, but she had nothing of substance to say on industries of immediate concern to the audience, namely the media and, even after TVB President Steve Lanzano asked about it, auto.

I’ve also got to question TVB’s decision to fit a cable personality into the agenda. You’re telling me there is no broadcast business reporter capable of giving a little update on macro-economics.

The conference’s other “star” was most definitely a broadcaster. George Stephanopoulos, of ABC’s Good Morning, America and ABC News, ably moderated an afternoon panel on a topic that every broadcaster in the room was deeply interested in — the future of political campaigning. Few are more informed on the nexus of media and politics than Stephanopoulos.

One of the more confounding aspect of TVB is its insistence on promoting TV in general rather than local TV in particular. I understand that TV competes with other media, but TV can take care of itself. Nobody doubts the power of TV.

TVB should be focused on one thing — local TV. What’s sapping the vital juices of TV stations is not other media, but other forms of TV, particularly cable. I don’t have to tell TVB where all those core advertising dollars are going.

Bucking that tendency on Wednesday were Lanzano’s clever opening remarks, which made an elaborate pitch for local TV by listing all of its attributes, some of which you never think about like “no privacy issue,” “no data plan” and “worry-free operating system.”

I will quibble with one of Lanzano’s assertions — that local TV is mobile. It wishes it were mobile and it is trying to become mobile, but it is not now mobile. All those kids lining up to buy the latest iPhone won’t be able to watch all their local stations on it.

But add up all Lanzano’s other attributes and you wonder why local TV still isn’t getting most of the TV advertising dollars.

TVB also kept the spotlight on local TV by releasing research that found that TV is three times more likely that digital media to spark conversations.

I was happy to see two of the speakers on Stephanopoulos’ panel speak directly to local broadcasters, telling them in effect not to take political advertising for granted.

“TV stations across the country have gotten kind of lazy,” said one, Jim Innocenzi, a founding partner of the political advertising firm Sandler-Innocenzi. “I think the local TV stations have to go out there and bump their hump a little more.”

Given the importance of political to local TV these days, it may have been the most important advice of the day. Of course, TVB and the reps already work the political space extremely hard.

I said that TVB succeeded in staging an event where broadcasters could talk about broadcasting, but it fell short on another of its goals — to provide a showcase for local broadcasting. Other than TVNewsCheck, I don’t think anybody bothered to cover the conference.

To get the media’s attention, rather than news personalities like Bartiromo and Stephanopoulous, TVB needs newsmakers like Les Moonves, Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, Bob Iger and Chase Carey.

The other thing TVB needs to do is lure more advertisers, marketers and media buyers to the event. That’s a little trickier. But they too might be drawn by top executives who take a broader view of media.

This is advice that Lanzano doesn’t need.

I spoke to Lanzano this morning as he and the TVB staff were beginning the post-mortem. He was pleased with the conference. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

But he added that he fully understands that part of the mission for next year will be to get the TVB message out beyond the membership. And part of that effort may be finding a room that holds more than 350 people, he said. “It may be time for a bigger boat.”

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (9)

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Ellen Samrock says:

September 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm

It would also be nice if someone from the FCC showed up at TVB and spoke. The commissioners seem to be at no loss for words in publicly praising AM radio (now THERE’S a dying technology). How about spreading a little love around for broadcast television.

    Linda Stewart says:

    September 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Excellent point. It would be good to expose the commissioners to the business side of broadcasting.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    September 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Multiple FCC Commissioners regularly show up every April at the NAB TV Show in Vegas and you think they “have no loss for words in publicly praising AM radio” because the current FCC Chairwoman showed up in Orlando at the NAB Radio show (and another made a videotape because his wife is expecting)? While I do not disagree that exposing commissioners to the business side of broadcasting is a good thing, positioning it as TV v AM Radio is ridiculous. TV takes up a far greater amount of the FCC’s time than AM radio has in decades. And if you went further and read what the FCC is REALLY saying about AM is allowing them to move to FM, just as it allowed TV to move around from VHF to UHF, to enter the digital age.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    OMG! I was not pitting AM radio against TV. Harry got my point and that’s all I care about.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    September 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Perhaps you should have done some additional reading: “Broadcasting shouldn’t be an afterthought,” Pai told the NAB Show on Friday. He says when he joined the agency its relationship wasn’t as good has it could have been. “But in the last 16 months I believe that things have become better,” Pai said.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I read his comments. I saw nothing in them about broadcast television. But more significantly it was Com. Pai who suggested the FCC take all channels above 37 or 78 MHz and auction them off. That doesn’t exactly sound like a friend of broadcasting, at least not for television. Maybe you need to do some more reading.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    September 24, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Again, you need to read the above. It did NOT come the article. It was ANOTHER News Story. Get the entire picture before you go spouting off half cocked.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 25, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Oh, I see. You’re quoting another mysterious news source that has nothing to do with this topic. Time to get back on those meds, pal.

Wanda LaCroix says:

September 20, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Right on Harry. TVB must champion “localism” a point Bill Fine so eloquently drove home in his opening remarks. Boston Marathon, hurricane Sandy, Boulder, Co floods have the same common denominator – local knows and covers local better than any other medium.