McAdams On: NAB Takeaway

LAS VEGAS: Going to the NAB Show is like trying to consume a year’s worth of food in a week. It takes a while to remember what some of the dishes were. Here’s a few takeaways off the top of my head.

It’s a good time to have a Republican former senator heading up the broadcast lobby. NAB chief Gordon Smith has as much of a chance as anyone could to stall spectrum incentive auction authorization in the House. Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake said delaying authorization could ultimately make things worse in 10 years. But holding off for another year gives everybody the chance to look at the FCC’s mathematics, while the late MSTV's Victor Tawil figures out an even more complicated channel repacking plan.

FCC chief Julius Genachowski figures repacking again won’t be a problem because it’s been done before. May he one day rise to fetch Victor’s pencils.

One thing Genachowski said at the show that got everyone’s attention was the comment about no one being able to keep their channel assignment in the event of repacking:

“Voluntary can’t mean undermining the potential effectiveness of an auction by giving every broadcaster a new and unprecedented right to keep their exact channel location.”

“Unprecedented?” one broadcaster commented to me. “Seventy years of precedent guarantees our channel assignments.”

As with all things political, any single issue is driven by an agenda obfuscated by an agenda obfuscated by an agenda. The old saying is to follow the money. In this case, you have a flat-broke federal government hankering for spectrum auction proceeds. Occam’s Razor, right? So I asked a if broadcasters would be willing to bid on their own spectrum to lock it down, and execute a certain Neapolitan hand gesture toward federal programming regulations. Without hesitating, he said “sure,” but he quickly noted that broadcast licenses sell for multiple millions now because of the infrastructure built around them.

Mobile DTV. Will it save the industry? Who knows, but if I were a TV station broadcasting a mobile signal, I’d be giving away iPad receivers. However, consumer adoption may be secondary to the network-versus-station dynamic. Stations realize they need to do something for free, which doesn’t set well with networks that now want a piece of absolutely everything from TV stations include whatever you got in that there tchotchke bag, bub.

Such was the contention at the Fox affiliate meeting when the network contingent came in that folks were said to storm out afterward. One broadcaster told me small affiliates that now elect must-carry may be forced to do retransmission negotiations because the network wants a piece of that cheese.

Look for a wave of local-themed rebrandings this year.

I rely on intelligence when it comes to the show floor--in more ways that one. Mark Schubin, engineer in charge at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, walked it for his 40th in a row this year. He takes in literally every booth. This is the first time I’ve heard him say his feet hurt.

He also made an interesting observation about floor in general. Fewer folks were crowded around the blue-sky technology, he said.

“More people were looking at real stuff. Avid had a huge crowd. Where ever a company had glue or basic equipment, there was a crowd,” he said. “I got the feeling that people really wanted to make this industry work.”

Time will tell.

~Deborah D. McAdams