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NextGen Broadcast Conference Uncovers Rift Between CTA, NAB Leadership

Consumer Technology Association CEO and president Gary Shapiro (center) and NAB CEO and president Curtis LeGeyt (on left screen) speaking at the Advanced Television System Committee’s NextGen Broadcast Conference
(Image credit: ATSC)

DETROIT—The session was titled “ATSC 3.0: Television, Automotive and More” June 9 at the Advanced Television System Committee’s NextGen Broadcast Conference, but few could have predicted the “more” would include exchanges between Consumer Technology Association CEO and president Gary Shapiro and NAB CEO and president Curtis LeGeyt that at times were quite pointed and at others downright confrontational.

Moderated by Digital Tech Consulting (DTC) founder and president Myra Moore, the conversation between both association leaders started off, as might be expected for a conference looking at the NextGen TV standard, on topics like the role of local broadcasters, what motivates CE manufacturers to adopt anything new, the 3.0 build out, how the NextGen TV rollout compares to DTV/HDTV rollout and the availability of NextGen TV sets.

The interaction between Shapiro, who was in person at the event, and LeGeyt, who joined by Zoom, took an unexpected turn when Moore asked the association leaders about how the organizations are working together to promote NextGen TV to consumers.

“First of all, I think we're working tremendously well together, across, you know, numerous different aspects of this,” said LeGeyt. After mentioning recently reading an Op-Ed co-written by former NAB CEO and president Gordon Smith and Shapiro on the 10-year anniversary of the DTV transition and remarking on how it underscored the importance of “collaboration and consensus” between the CE and TV broadcast industries to achieve a shared goal, LeGeyt expressed appreciation for the collaborative efforts of the CE industry and CTA members on NextGen TV.

“…[B]eing on the same page, talking about how do we promote this collectively… the consumer value proposition…in the living room, in the phone and in all of these use cases—where your members are effectively going to be… the consumers’ entryway to the benefits, I think the sky’s the limit here,” said LeGeyt. 

Shapiro, however, expressed there’s a limit. “I agree with everything you’ve said till this point, except that it’s a wonderful collaboration, because I’ve got to be honest with you, it’s tough to collaborate with someone when you’re investing a lot of your resources fighting ideas that they’re pushing forth to policymakers…,” said Shapiro.

The CTA head cited NAB efforts to put a tax “on all devices” using FCC-regulated spectrum. “Who wants their Wi-Fi taxed? Who wants all these equipment taxes? That's not something that makes us very happy when you're out there all the time talking about big tech and how horrible technology is, and trying to push that agenda in Washington,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro also objected to the NAB’s support for taxpayer money to pay journalists, a proposal he characterized as going “to the heart of the First Amendment and where government should be.” NAB is “pushing a lot of ideas which have nothing to do with expanding the industry and more to do with fighting other industries that you somehow feel are against you,” he said.

Other items on Shapiro’s list of grievances included “fighting the music industry” for free performance rights, attacks on technology innovation, including a proposal to prevent a company with more than $100 million from acquiring another company. “Why is it that this past week, you've had `The Washington Post,' far left liberal, and `The Wall Street Journal,' far-right conservative, agreeing that these proposals are absolutely wrong for business?” he asked.

“Well, Gary, listen,” said LeGeyt. “I couldn’t disagree more. First off, as it relates to any advocacy we're doing around technology, it relates to the largest tech companies—Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon. [L]et's be very honest, [they] are impeding competition and pushing out many of your members who can't compete with them.”

The NAB chief noted that the market dominance of those big tech companies puts them in an information gatekeeper role and that their “market power has finally found a way into breaking down the business model for locally focused journalism. That’s not a broadcast-specific issue.” 

“[W]e’re not focused on… doing anything to technology and innovation in this country; where we are focused is on for companies that have absolutely outsized market power,” said LeGeyt, who suggested the two meet in Washington to discuss “how we [NAB] can finetune our messaging around that to make that clear.”

However, “there is no future of this business model [broadcasting] in which four companies…have an outsized impact on our ability to reach our audiences as those audiences migrate to digital and are turning around and using our own content against us in a local ad marketplace that they dominate as a result of that monopoly power,” said LeGeyt.

Moore tried to pull the conversation back to 3.0, but Shapiro continued. “This is not just an attack on four big companies,” he said. This is an attack on the tech industry saying you don't have a right to develop a platform and make it successful.”

LeGeyt called Shapiro’s description of NAB’s advocacy and proposals a complete mischaracterization of “our anti-trust agenda as it relates to… these broader anti-trust initiatives.”

“Look, there are a lot of proposals out there right now. NAB supports the overarching effort to rein in these tech companies,” he said.

Addressing collaboration between NAB and CTA on NextGen TV promotion, LeGeyt said he was “going to push back.”

“As the head of the CTA trade association, you may not feel like the partnership has been good,” said LeGeyt. “But I can tell you from our members’ perspective, we are grateful for the partnership that we’ve had with your industry as it relates to receiver standards [and] as it relates to joint promotion in the markets where the deployment has happened. And as it relates to broadcast education, consumer education… in this early stage—we are grateful for the work to date, and I need your members to know that."

In reply, Shapiro noted that ATSC is a “wonderful mechanism composed of super-competent people” who came together and agreed on a goal for NextGen TV. “I think that’s great, but when you asked about the partnership between the industries and organizations and how this would be promoted, it’s tough to promote it when someone has a knife, and they keep trying to stab you.”

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.