NAB's Smith preaches unity, spectrum preservation at ATSC gathering

At the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith spoke about the need for collaboration among all the stakeholders in the new world of television broadcasting. That is, television set manufacturers, chip companies, satellite, cable, software developers, professional equipment manufacturers and broadcasters. Without this cooperation, he said, broadcasters could face an uncertain future.

"Broadcasting can only evolve to more and better services by collaboration among all the stakeholders," he said. "I believe we can get more done by working together than by working independently, or in the worst case, working against each other."

"A lot of people in the stakeholder industries have to agree to make the ubiquity and universality of television work. That means services really need to be based on mutually agreed upon technical standards as a bedrock principle of any business plan for a successful broadcast service. The interplay of politics, business and the role that technology plays in the intersection of both will have a strong impact on determining the future of television broadcasting," he said.

With the new world of on-demand, interactive, Internet-enabled and 3-D television, broadcasters have to find ways to satisfy a public that has an insatiable need for more high-quality content. If not, they risk becoming obsolete.

"Finding a way for broadcasters to take part in that new world isn't optional, it's a necessity in order to stay competitive with other media in this complex and unpredictable digital world," he said.

Smith said that with all the talk broadband and broadcast convergence in the current spectrum debate, the need for mobile DTV is one area that could use the extra bandwidth.

"There [is] a lot of continuing talk about spectrum — those that have it, those that want it and those that regulate it," he said. "These days, a lot of controversy revolves around the word 'voluntary' when it comes to broadcasters giving up spectrum. At the core, we want to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily. And for those that choose not to give up spectrum, we want them held harmless and not disadvantaged by their choice to stay in the business of broadcasting.

"If a station simply can't make it and volunteers to sell its spectrum, that's fine, as long as it doesn't harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future," Smith said. "The problem is that what is voluntary for the former could become involuntary for the latter. It concerns us that the FCC could forcibly relocate broadcasters, crowd channels closer together, reduce their coverage, destroy innovation for viewers, increase interference or otherwise degrade their signals.

"This would endanger our digital future. So, what we're saying to the government is keep voluntary, voluntary. Broadcasters have a unique identity. We are important voices in our local communities. We live where we broadcast, and we reflect the values of those communities, large and small across the country."

He stressed the importance of preserving spectrum for broadcasters that want to accommodate new DTV services, including mobile TV.

"This debate about spectrum brings up the issue of change and the challenge of continued relevance. But change can't happen, and we can't serve our audiences, if we don't have sufficient spectrum. It's the necessary ingredient in the over-the-air part of free, over-the-air television. So we'll continue to fight to ensure that broadcasters have the spectrum they need and innovations in broadcast services, like the ones ATSC is spearheading, can flourish in consumer homes well into the future."