McAdams On: The Space Between... NAB Shows

No 12-month period between NAB Shows can compare to the one just completed. More has happened to the television business over the last year than in any other during the industry’s history. Television as we knew it inexorably changed.

First and foremost was the DTV transition. The 60-year use of sine waves to transmit audio and video to virtually every household in the United States ceased and was replaced by digital code. The colossality of the operation remains truly mind-boggling, and as such, negligibly appreciated by non-engineers. Especially those in Washington, D.C., regulating the industry and making like Yul Brenner doing Rameses II. “So let it be written... yada yada.”

Some events are just too big to be news. The comedian Eddie Izzard has a succinct theory of scale: “Kill one person, that’s murder you go to prison. Kill 10, you go to Texas and they hit you with a brick; 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look at you through a small window... forever. Over that, we can’t deal with it... kill 100,000 people we’re almost going, ‘well done, well done. You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning. I can’t even get down to the gym.’”

The DTV transition had similar qualities. It got around 30 seconds of mention on the “Today” show the day of. Households around the country lost reception, but we’d already become aware that those folks don’t count in Washington. Because they’re not as likely to fork over burgeoning subscription fees to see TV shows on cell phones, the service providers for which have Washington, D.C. regulators in circus-like headlock.

So it was that scant weeks after the DTV transition, the FCC decided to launch a campaign to destroy over-the-air TV in the guise of providing every man, woman and child in the United States with free and fabulous wireless broadband access!

Well done. Well done, indeed!

The transparency and disingenuousness of the National Broadband Plan, the brainchild of FCC chief Julius Genachowski, has been raised here before. Props to Genachowski and staff for turning out a 376-page position statement rather than some bullet-pointed principle sheet per FCCs of the past. However, the document is not, per se, a true “broadband plan,” but a philosophical argument for one.

It contains only anecdotal claims regarding the imagined spectrum shortage used to justify reallocating broadcast frequencies. Anecdotal claims coming straight from the cell phone providers who stand to make a killing on that spectrum, while they simultaneously crush broadcast competition in the mobile video arena.

Whether the broadcast industry deserves to continue using the spectrum for television and its emerging iterations is neither here nor there. Plenty of observers have flat foreheads from pounding them on the wall as broadcasters frittered away the unprecedented marketing opportunity that was the DTV transition. And this was after Freeview swept the United Kingdom. The industry itself is by no means without blame for leaving itself so vulnerable.

The thing that galls about the National Broadband Plan is the phantasmagorical, Utopian double-speak with which it’s being proffered. That ubiquitous, wireless broadband can even be achieved in this country, much less that it will resolve our economic woes, revolutionize health care and re-establish the United States as the world leader in everything.


The National Broadband Plan is a way for cell-phone companies, and by extension, Wall Street, to make more money. Nothing wrong with that. No moral judgment here. That’s what we do here in the U.S. of A. We look for ways to make money.

It’s just that, well, technically, the government isn’t supposed to favor one industry over another, but we all know better. It happens all the time. It would just be nice for a change if it came down more like a Hollywood divorce.

“Look, broadcasting. We’ve had some good times together. Remember color TV? That was great... but look. I’ve met someone new. Someone younger, and who makes me feel younger. Now don’t cry... it’s not as if you didn’t see the signs.”

And then broadcasting makes like Angela Bassett’s Bernadine in “Waiting to Exhale.”

See you at the “nab” show, people.