When broadcasters gathered at this time last year in Las Vegas for their annual show, there was much anxiety over the future of over-the-air television. Congress was still weighing proposals that some broadcasters worried could force them to give up their lifeblood: spectrum.
A year later, many television broadcasters are likely breathing a sigh of relief. Congress did indeed enact spectrum legislation that authorized “incentive auctions” that will probably result in some broadcasters relinquishing their spectrum to wireless operators. But the National Association of Broadcasters managed to secure some key protections to ensure that stations that voluntarily give up their airwaves will do so on favorable terms and those that stay in the business will be protected.
Still, many challenges remain for the industry, many of which will be examined during NAB’s annual show next week in Las Vegas. They include, most notably, monitoring the Federal Communications Commission’s implementation of the spectrum legislation signed into law in February as part of a payroll-tax-cut package. Several FCC officials, including Chairman Julius Genachowski and commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Robert McDowell, are scheduled to speak at this year’s NAB show.
“There will be many broadcasters interested in Chairman Genachowski’s remarks related to FCC implementation of the incentive auction legislation,” association spokesman Dennis Wharton said. “NAB intends to work closely with the FCC to help carry out the intent of Congress, while preserving a robust free and local TV service for tens of millions of viewers exclusively reliant on over-the-air TV.”
At last year’s show, Genachowski had some tough words for broadcasters, particularly those who questioned whether a spectrum shortage is looming and what the threat might be to wireless companies. “While there are certainly legitimate issues to work through, I’m disappointed by arguments that are fundamentally distractions,” he said during his speech at last year’s NAB show.
Other issues on broadcasters’ plate include a continued push to get wireless operators to include radio chips in cell phones so they can receive FM radio; media ownership; and efforts by cable, satellite, and other pay-TV providers to push the FCC and Congress to revise “retransmission consent” rules, which require pay TV operators to negotiate fees to use broadcaster programming. Cable firms and others argue that the current process puts too much power into the hands of broadcasters, who can withhold popular programming as a bargaining chip.
Broadcasters are “very interested in preserving retransmission consent, which allows TV broadcasters to negotiate a fair price from cable and satellite companies that carry our most-watched signals and then charge a fee to their customers,” Wharton said.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith will likely be praised for his stewardship of the spectrum issue. He was rewarded last month with a five-year extension of his contract.
This year’s confab will also include the usual array of shout-outs to broadcasting industry luminaries. Among those being honored this year include actor, director, producer, and writer Garry Marshall and actress Betty White. Both are being inducted into the NAB’s Broadcasting Hall of Fame.