McAdams On: Rebranding Broadcast
May 13, 2011
NOTANEWSFLASH, CALIF.: Broadcast television needs an
extreme makeover. First of all, why are we still using the term “broadcast?”
The industry needs a new descriptive. Desperately. The other guys co-opted
“innovation.” Broadcast came along and said, “We innovate, too. Mobile DTV!”
Too late. The spectrum vultures own the word. (And, um, mobile video’s kind of
been out there for years.)
has innovated, to be
sure. Digital television started with broadcasting, and it’s the only video
distribution system doing any justice whatsoever to high-definition TV. But
those things are now so 1999, which in American cultural time is a fossil era.
It’s also true that the digital transition was a huge metamorphosis for the
70-year-old industry. It came at great expense with no evident return on
investment, and was followed immediately by the economic implosion. The
industry took a gut punch, but there is no time to for laurel-resting. Vultures
have keen eyesight.
Broadcasting needs to redefine itself. People know that cable TV is carried on
wires. They know that satellite TV comes from birds, and adoption rates
demonstrate people have no objection to antennas.
Most have no clue how broadcast signals travel. It would be nice to rebrand the
platform “Cloud TV,” but that now denotes nonlinear delivery. “Atmospheric
TV’s” sounds too much like a New Age music network. Following the satellite and
cable logic, broadcast should call itself “wireless” TV.
The industry’s lobby should replace all forms of the term “broadcast” in the
public lexicon with “wireless TV.” It should rename itself the “Wireless TV
Association.” First of all, the reference is accurate. People would easily
grasp the concept. Second of all, it would drive the wireless industry batty.
This makes for excellent cat-fighting among Washington lobbyists, a truly
underappreciated spectator sport if ever there was one.
As with all rebrandings, this one should have substance. A lot of rebrandings fail
because they’re done backwards. Folks figure they’ll slap a new name on
something and then figure out what it is. This is seriously unwise in a world
where every literate person with access to electrons is bombarded constantly
with information. Audience alienation in today’s media environment is lethal.
There are too many other places to go. So before broadcasting becomes wireless
TV, it should consider the implication of the term. It denotes a delivery
TV stations continue to conduct business as programmers, i.e., similar to a
cable network. They certainly are, in part, but more prevalently, they are
providers, like cable and
satellite. TV stations unfortunately have become overly dependent on those
competitors to distribute their signals, and they’re now paying the price. If
over-the-air reliance were even in the 30 percent range, Fox wouldn’t be
shaking down affiliates. But this is what retransmission hath wrought.
It’s time for TV stations should conduct business from a platform perspective,
especially in markets with high reliance on over-the-air reception. Doing so
means comparing broadcast as a platform to cable and satellite. Both have
somewhat logical organization of content and premium offerings. TV stations don’t
have that now, but they do have, a) the most popular programming, and b) the
best value proposition.
Two things would need to be fixed immediately, however: VHF reception and a
programming guide. Fox and ABC don’t come in with an indoor antenna 24 miles
from the transmitter in Los Angeles. That’s not good, but it’s also not the
case in every market.
The programming guide is a matter of cooperation, coordination, and who gives
up 1 Mbps to run it. While it may appear to promote competitive programmers, it’ll
also likely get more of an audience than the weather map. TV stations in any
market that can get those two things down should promote wireless TV as if it
were the new iThing. They should do a deal with Dominoes for a free indoor-antenna
installation with every large single-topping delivery pizza. The tag is “Let us
Put $100 a Month Back in Your Pocket!”
The effort begins there and evolves as diginets are developed and adopted. “More
Channels--FREE!” English subtitles on foreign-language programming would be
good, too. There are a ton of international channels in Los Angeles I would
watch more often if they were subtitled--for the language skills alone.
Programming guides also should evolve into universal remote apps as soon as
possible, so the entire operation becomes touch-screen intuitive.
Broadcast engineers are now working on the next generation of technical
standards for over-the-air TV. They’ll consider things like 3D transmission,
advanced compression and interactivity. That’s all good, but what the industry needs
more than follow-on features is a new way of thinking of itself. After all,
that’s all innovation really is.