Countries, and the robustness of their economies, rise and fall on the basis of fiscal policies. All too often, those policies are dictated by the latest theories for economic well-being. Another key driver of the economic growth engine is telecommunications policy, which can also be a measure of a country's technological leadership. But, telecoms policy, too, can fall victim to flavor-of-the-day thinking. One of today's benchmarks in evaluating a country's position of technological well-being is its level of broadband infrastructure and penetration of its population's access to high-speed Internet. Thus, we find current telecoms policy in the United States is being strictly driven by Internet access.
With a birthplace at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratories in Switzerland, despite its European roots, it was in the United States where the World Wide Web was nurtured and developed into the interactive information, entertainment and commerce resource that totally revolutionized all aspects of life as we know it. However, ironically enough, it is access to broadband resources where the United States lags behind. China, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom all surpass the United States in percentage of the population having broadband access.
Recognizing the critical importance of this gap, the Obama administration set out a policy and established goals aimed at maximizing the availability of broadband access across America from inner cities to rural America. The policy is laudable, but not in its absolutely single-minded focus. It has been through this policy that, as broadcasters, we have witnessed a spectrum grab onslaught that can only be compared to the firing of cannons at noon on that September day in 1893 that launched the greatest land rush in our history. And, like those “Sooners” in Oklahoma who took unfair advantage of the “Boomers” who actually waited for the cannon blast, the U.S. wireless industry is taking unfair advantage by laying claim to broadcasters' spectrum under the banner of advancing this administration's telecoms policy.
The broadcast industry is past the point of needing a wake-up call. The wolf is at the door, and the industry continues to fiddle while the spectrum burns. As I previously wrote months ago on these pages, the television broadcast industry continues down a dangerous path, woefully impotent in fighting the spectrum grab. Is this a fight to the death? No, it is a fight to marginalize you — to reduce your value to advertisers and content providers. The loss of spectrum and the attempt to repack over-the-air delivery represents a diminution in the ability to reach audience and to develop new services. That, in turn, directly impacts ad dollars and competition for program distribution.
So, why is no one leading the charge? Why are individual broadcasters not using their inherent outreach resource to meet this challenge? There is ammunition aplenty. Despite the battle for eyeballs with viewer temptations of movie rentals, video games and computer screens filled with web browsing and social networking pages, television viewing continues apace.
In its recently released 51st Annual Television Audience Report, Nielsen reported that, once again, total television viewing per household increased during the 2010-2011 season, this time to an average of 34 hours and 12 minutes — up from 34 hours and 1 minute the previous viewing season. Interestingly enough, 10 years ago when there were fewer distractions, and with much less competition for viewers, average weekly television viewing stood at 28 hours and 7 minutes. You owe it to yourself to view the report, which can be found online at Nielsen's web site. It shows continuing, year-on-year growth of television viewing, up by almost 25 percent over the past 10 years. And remember, the interesting consideration is that this was all during a period of unprecedented digital technology development and new products introduced and designed to compete for viewer attention.
2012 is a year of positive convergence for the broadcaster. Quadrennially, when both an Olympics year and a presidential election year come together, they bring additional, extensive, viewing time and advertising dollars. Broadcasters should take advantage of those additional viewers and that extra revenue to drive home the message of risk and drive viewers to action. This needs to happen, broadcasters, in order to avoid your marginalization, which is the first step toward extinction.
Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.
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