Opportunity missed

Opportunity missed

By Brad Dick, editorial director

I've recently been called by several non-broadcast publications regarding the 700 MHz auction. Most simply wanted to know what my readers thought about the delay and why broadcasters haven't been more willing to move out of the spectrum.

After giving more thought to the issue, it seemed time for me to remind my general manager readers of their opportunity missed.

It seems to me that broadcasters are running a great risk by not implementing digital, giving up this spectrum and getting on with DTV services — now! Our industry is missing a great opportunity.

Today, I read that cable systems are forcing customers to “buy up” to a digital tier if they want to retain their premium services. With most cable systems, you can get HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and other premium services the old-fashioned, RF, analog way. You don't have to have a fancy dancy digital STB and another damned remote just to watch a movie channel.

But no. Cable has found another way to squeeze $10 a month from viewers by moving all those premium channels to a digital tier. While an industry spokesman claims they are not charging more for the movie channels, viewers will still have to rent a digital set-top box if they want to continue to get those premium services. For that, they get nothing extra except an STB and another remote control to confuse their life.

While viewers may complain, they'll have little choice but to pay more or lose the service. If they've become addicted to those premium services, they'll simply have to pony up another $120 a year just to get the same thing they now enjoy.

It's no secret that there are increasingly vocal objections to the rising costs of cable service. In fact, Senate demo-republican John McCain has threatened hearings on the matter. It's against this backdrop that broadcast has a unique opportunity to challenge cable.

To seize the initiative, broadcast station managers must first admit that digital is the way of the future. You're either in or out, and the price to stay is investment in your plant. If you, station manager/owner, aren't willing to invest in the future of your business by purchasing the needed technology, then please immediately sell your station to someone who will. There are millions of viewers who don't want cable and will be loyal if you'll only deliver a high quality service to them.

The majority of viewers are not going to be buying new $3000 HDTV sets anytime soon, no matter what CEA says. That means the DTV transition could drag out for the next 15 years until old TV sets get replaced. We need a quicker solution. This requires broadcasters to act now and build new program streams.

If you're not a GM, then tape this editorial to their office door and run. Let me take the blame for telling them to get off their financial backside and either buy in or get out of broadcasting. I for one am fed up with their whining and moaning as they drive their BMW or Lexus to the bank with the latest deposits. These folks need to either get on with the DTV transition or get out of the business. Their duplicity is grating on my nerves.

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