NAB Chief Smith: Retrans Preserves Programming
WASHINGTON: Retransmission is not broken and certainly
doesn’t need fixing, broadcast lobby chief Gordon Smith said Saturday evening
on C-SPAN’s talk series, “The Communicators.” Smith, president and CEO of the
National Association of Broadcasters, managed to work in a defense of retrans
in answer to whether or not free TV had been “broken by the Internet.”
“No, because of retransmission consent, just as cable and satellite ask for
payment of their produced content, we ask for the same consideration when they
take our content and put it through their pipes or bounce it off their
satellites, we feel like we’re owed something,” Smith said. “I think it’s
important to remember that of all the programming Americans watch, in a
majority, it is broadcast content. People like to watch things live, they like
the Super Bowl, they like baseball, like ‘24,’ ‘The Office,’ ‘The Mentalist.’
All these things are very expensive to produce.”
Retrans is TVs hot potato in Washington right now. Federal regulators are
considering a rewrite of the rules governing how pay TV providers gain carriage
access to over-the-air broadcast signals. Natch, folks are taking sides. Republican
commissioner Robert McDowell and House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton
(R-Mich.) both have objected to further retransmission regulation.
Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon, agreed.
“While there is a rare interruption, the truth of the matter is, 99 percent of
these negotiations are carried out without interruption on a market basis,” he
Ironically, one such disruption had commenced just hours before, when the
retrans contract between LIN TV and Dish Network expired.
LIN said it pulled 27 local
TV station signals from Dish systems at midnight on Friday. However, another
retrans negotiation was settled last week before any contention was publicized.
Sinclair Broadcast Group quietly cut a carriage deal with
Comcast for 36 TV stations in 22 markets.
Smith deftly fielded a query about whether or not it was helpful to the NAB that
Republicans had reclaimed the House.
“Our issues are not Republican and Democratic . . . they’re about the American
people--news, weather, sports and emergency information they want to watch,” he
said. “I find friends on both sides of the aisle. The fact of a divided
government gives you a lot more procedural hurdles to utilize if you need to .
. . when I served, I think I was viewed as a constructive conservative. I count
many, many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle.”
The imposition of network neutrality rules by the Federal Communications
Commission gave Smith concerns about over-regulation in general, he said.
“My hope is that the FCC will act in accordance with what they’ve said
publicly, and that they don’t have the statutory authority to impose bringing
arbitration or some new system that puts the government’s thumb on negotiation
and tries to force a particular outcome,” he said.
With regard to spectrum, Smith noted that broadcasters relinquished nearly a
third of their spectrum in the DTV transition.
“The ink’s hardly dry on the bill, and already the demand is ‘we need more,’”
The Obama Administration is now seeking to repurpose 40 percent of the
remaining TV spectrum for wireless broadband. It has proposed to do so before
conducting a full survey of what is available and what’s in use. And while
broadcasters have repeatedly been charged with “spectrum squatting,” Smith
noted recent disclosures by Time Warner and Clearwire having “tremendous
amounts” of unpurposed spectrum.
“You can call it hoarding if you want,” Smith said.
The FCC needs Congressional authority to hold its proposed incentive auctions,
by which broadcasters who voluntarily relinquish spectrum would be paid a cut
of the proceeds. But it does not need such authority to repack the broadcast
spectrum, requiring TV stations to move to new channel assignments.
“Our hope is to keep ‘voluntary,’ voluntary, so that if you don’t volunteer to
go out of business, that you’re not placed in an inferior band,” he said. “That
you don’t lose multicasting, which is your foreign-language stations, religious
stations, minority stations. We don’t want to lose the future of mobile
Smith said mobile and multicasting represented “tremendous innovations”
broadcasters have already sunk millions into. Repacking, “really just forced
relocation,” he said, could put broadcasters into bandwidth with poorer
coverage characteristics. Smith called upon TV manufacturers to improve
Without ball-parking a overall percentage of how many broadcasters would bite
on incentive auctions, Smith said cash-strapped operations would be
“I don’t know where they came up with needing another 120 MHz,” Smith said. “I
don’t know why that number comes out of broadcasting, so somewhere between
there and zero, there’ll be some broadcasters who are under water economically
who’ll gladly agree to go out of business for a market fee.”
Smith also noted that in a “pay-go” environment, spectrum auction proceeds “were
every legislators pay-for for everything. So when you put billions on the
table, there’s a lot of claimants. So where will broadcasters fare? So I’ve
said to those in broadcasting who may want to volunteer to make sure the check
clears before you let go of your spectrum.”
-- Deborah D. McAdams