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Editorial: Know (and Invite) Your Enemy

More than 90,000 people braved long cab lines and sinus-assaulting casino air in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention last week, and it was comforting to find a real sense of optimism returning to the show floor. With the economy seemingly continuing to show signs of life, deals were getting done, new technologies were finding listeners, and broadcasters appeared to have a little bounce in their step that was noticeably absent in the past few recession-battered years.

And as always at this time of year, the broadcast industry and its leaders took the opportunity to beat their chests a little. Whether in the face of the government trying to take—sorry, ask them to volunteer—spectrum space or to remind themselves of their import in local communities vis-àvis other content delivery mechanisms, there was plenty of the expected industry pep rally pom-pom shaking.

Overall, the annual confab was a win, and we commend the organizers for a solid event and a diverse lineup of speakers from James Cameron talking 3-D to the annual FCC Chairman’s Breakfast, which almost didn’t happen until a last-minute budget deal kept the lights on in Washington and put Julius Genachowski on a plane.

But we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t have some of our own notes, so we encourage NAB next year to think about a new batch of speakers: the ones that broadcasters are battling against. Examining broadcasting in a vacuum is comforting, but it is a terrible idea. Next year, we think NAB should bring in more people from the companies that are waging war on broadcasters. This isn’t about keeping your enemies close, this is about learning from them. We would like to see speakers from Netflix and other places that are becoming massive pipelines, and even getting into the content business themselves.

Or bring in execs from AOL, Yahoo! and ESPN, which are rolling out local strategies and battling broadcasters for local influence—and advertising dollars. There are a few of these on the NAB agenda, but there need to be more.

Learning from the competition, or learning that the competition may have some ideas about collaboration—can only make execs sharpen their game and better understand the constantly evolving marketplace they are battling.

The FCC Chairman’s Breakfast is the perfect template for this: Bring in a powerful adversary who could potentially become an ally. Heck, bring in lots of them. We are all for rooting on the broadcasting industry at an event like NAB—as long as there is room for studying the other team’s playbook.