Tracking The Business

It occurred to me that heading into NAB was a good time to reflect on the state of the broadcast business, where it's been and where it's headed. It seemed a good time to try and define just what it means to be in this business. How does one define the state of broadcasting?

Like any other business, ours goes through its ups and downs and meanders through its various phases of development. Some of those phases, like faded photographs from the past, can be embarrassing when we look back. Or they generate the kind of nostalgia that causes us to distort our memory of how good things were. If we had recorded our conversations back then, we would now hear ourselves complaining about how things were.

Though it may be true that times are particularly trying right now, as we face an unprecedented level of technological change throughout the station and the broadcast system, it was never easy for engineering and management to put a plant together. Whenever a station or a network was replacing technology it was moving to a new state-of-the-art, whatever that state was, and it was difficult, costly, and painful, not to mention time-consuming. Management was always pressured to get a return for any investment, whether it was a transmitter, a new studio camera, or the huge investment required when the satellite backhaul and delivery system came into being. You couldnât charge more for commercials just because you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on satellite gear, right? Somehow we all prospered.

Beyond defining the industry, of course, this evolution represents the twin forces that drive the business: the rapid spiral of technology and competition in the marketplace. They always seem to go hand in hand, sucking the industry into the vortex created by the meeting of those two forces.

For the bottom line, it is always competition that truly defines a business, even ours. Regardless of the stage of development of technology, the competitive picture defines how you conduct your business. But the most telling symbols that define the perception of our business are the technological ones. Of course, the battle between digital and analog continues to be waged, but that battle is a misguided effort. Regardless of how the FCC decides to enforce its regulations and regardless of how quickly broadcasters and their business partners fall in line, the war is already over. The most cunning and agile among us will be the ones who prosper, the rest will be the ones who get bought up as soon as the government permits huge corporations to own unlimited number of media outlets÷a path we seem to be walking as if it were the Yellow Brick Road.

Like the arguments over the move to digital, whether or not ownership of greater number of media properties by fewer and fewer corporations is a good idea is really moot. Itâs over. Itâs going to happen, so figure out how your little corner of the media universe is going to fit in.

And the answer may just lie at the doorstep of digital technology. Why? Because itâs billable technology. It represents an unprecedented level of flexibility and power, even for the small station. It opens up business possibilities that were not possible before, allowing the little guy to compete. We did a story a couple of issues ago demonstrating the leadership exhibited by WWSB, a small market station that converted to digital operation. WWSB wasnât pooling multiple stations' resources in a centralcasting approach. It was only one single station, all alone, spending the money. It now maintains it is getting its investment back. It runs the facility more efficiently and can produce more programming and better programming and therefore can compete in its market better.

So whether the new ownership rules change the game or whether or not digital conversion sits well with your station's plans are not really the issues. The industry is moving in that direction and it's up to us to meet the challenge, be smart, and make it work. And remember, 10 years from now we'll have something else driving us crazy and weâll be wishing for the good old days of 2002.

Have a good NAB and go ahead and buy some gear. Cheers.

In "That DAM Elephant" (January 2002), all of the references and quotes attributed to Derek Gascon of Convera should be references to Sam Shore of Concadia Solutions. Convera was also incorrectly reported as being a joint venture between Accenture and Sony Electronics. Concadia Solutions is the joint venture. We apologize for any inconvenience.

In "NBC Goes For The Digital Gold In Salt Lake City" (February 2002), it was incorrectly reported that Editware supplied NBC with one DPE-5000 edit controller. It supplied the network with 16 DPE-551 Hybrid editing systems.