Editorial: Twenty Questions

It has been almost two decades since Broadcasting & Cable created its Hall of Fame. At the time, we decided that, having been around for almost all of the medium’s history (Broadcasting launched on Oct. 15, 1931), it was high time we started to honor the pioneers of the business we had been chronicling since its infancy.

For much of that first Hall of Fame class, we were playing catch-up, as it were, as 60 industry standouts became inaugural inductees (in honor of our then 60th anniversary). Our goal was to look back on how far the industry had come since the day in 1916 when David Sarnoff, then assistant traffic manager of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co., proposed developing a wireless music box.

Sarnoff, of course, begat RCA and NBC, which begat NBC Universal, which hopes to do some begating with Comcast, bringing the past into the future, and tying broadcasting together with cable in a single sentence.

So on this, the 20th anniversary of our Hall of Fame, we thought we would look ahead a little to see what Hall of Famers over the next 20 years will need to do.

The primary challenge will be to figure out how the media business gets from here to there, and just exactly where “there” will be. Back at that 60th anniversary (in 1991), we talked about electronic media and publishing going through “future shock.” That comment applies double and appears today to be on steroids.

Broadcasters cannot simply try to defend their turf, though they will have to do some of that to keep from becoming a footnote to the story of the rise of broadband. Cable executives, meanwhile, will need to decide what the balance of their business is going to be. Cable operators are in the midst of their own migration to digital, but their future may instead be online video services, particularly if the FCC succeeds in turning set-tops into universal gateways to a broadband world.

Futurists, like the ones B&C talked to for its first Hall of Fame special issue, need to think hard about whether the fact that something can now be done online and faster than before is necessarily an unalloyed benefit. It is hard to raise that issue without being tagged a Luddite, but it is probably one of the most important in an age when information travels faster than our ability to comprehend its impact.

Programmers will have more places to put content, but the challenge will come with trying to monetize that fragmented audience so that they can put sufficient quality on the screen to lure enough eyeballs.

What they all must be guided by reflects what has been the goal of this editorial page since Vol. 1, Issue 1: full First Amendment rights for the electronic media.

The good news is that if past is prologue, the combined talents of executives like those being honored this week in New York will find a way to manage through adversity and succeed through creativity—plus requisite guts, and a little luck.

We plan to be around to tell you about it, and continue to salute those who make their mark on broadcasting and cable.