Editorial: The New Way

NAB president Gordon Smith told B&C last week that with a new transmission standard now in the works, broadcasters will be able to share spectrum and still deliver ultra-HD, multicasting and mobile.

With the FCC focused squarely on wireless broadband and seemingly unwilling to loosen decades-old ownership limits in an era of hundreds of channels of competition from cable, satellite and the Internet, broadcasters will need to be even more technologically innovative and flexible to move with a market that is changing at warp speed.

Broadcasters have already had to manage through the radical change of the first DTV transition and will face a second, prompted by the incentive auction and plans to develop the first new broadcast standard in 20 years, ATSC 3.0. It will open up a host of new services, but won’t work with existing TVs and devices.

But even as they work within and toward those seismic shifts, broadcasters are moving in the near term to remake their infrastructure for the digital age, including transitioning to IP-based systems and cloud storage that allows for easier beta testing of delivery mechanisms without the ramp-up and shut-down costs of doing it the old-fashioned way.

“We are not going to be building any more big iron facilities,” Vince Roberts, executive VP of global operations and CTO at the Disney/ABC Television Group, told B&C in the run-up to the show, where he will speak about the network’s plans for IP-and cloud-based infrastructure.

That remake is clearly a challenge, but the industry has the tech leaders to pull it off, as this year’s B&C Technology Leadership Award winners demonstrate.

But broadcasters will still need help from Washington.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is scheduled to address broadcasters at the conference. Smith says he wants to hear how broadcasters fit into the chairman’s “competition, competition, competition” mantra. So do we, and it has to be more than talk.

Major broadcasters will be participating in the auction, but have signaled they also want to remain in the business by taking the “sharing option” rather than the “exit the business” option. The FCC needs to make it as attractive for them as possible, and the commission no longer has to worry about low-balling the payout after the AWS-3 spectrum auction took care of all the programs the incentive auction no longer has to pay for.

The NAB has signaled it is willing to help make the auction a success, and is even on board with the FCC’s 2015 time frame. But it’ll only work if the auction is fair to broadcasters, and not yet another signal that the FCC is so focused on the new wireless technology that it can’t see the full value of the current wireless, ubiquitous, free and vital wireless broadcast technology that continues to deliver on the promises of localism and diversity the FCC is pledged to preserve, protect and defend.