McAdams On: Killing Broadcast TV

SPINNING— Sometimes, when an idea gains momentum, there’s no stopping it, even to consider alternatives. This is particularly true when it’s repeated often enough and becomes a default reality. Lobbyists, politicians and businesses use the press to facilitate default realities. We, the press, dutifully comply. The Internet gives us a universal fire hose.

So it is, the idea that broadcast television is obsolete and should be eliminated has permeated the collective mindset, like Crocs or pet rocks. There is no discussion about what the country would look like without the medium that conveyed to nearly every man, woman and child in the country that President John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin.

Even within the broadcast community, there are frustrated conversations in general agreement that broadcast has had its day. The exasperation is due in part to the discordant nature of the industry, comprised as it is of hundreds of businesses of every imaginable size, all competing among themselves. Getting them all on the same page at the same time is virtually impossible.

It doesn’t help that the ownership demographic is almost exclusively older, white and male, countervailing the medium’s public service justification in terms of diversity.

Broadcasting has a lot going against it right now, including its heavy reliance on retrans fees. Cable and satellite aren’t going to oppose spectrum reclamation, especially with cable shedding subscribers. All the traditional distribution networks are under pressure, not just broadcasting, which could but does not promote itself so as not to further irritate the pay providers, I’m told. Consequently, free, over-the-air TV’s kind of a secret, and that’s too bad, because when it goes, it’s gone. We will all be either at the mercy of one of two wireless providers, or in left the dark.

I hope the new FCC chairman has the gravitas to work for the public, and not simply as an industry shill. There are alternatives to the wholesale elimination of broadcasting, and these should be considered.