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On the Move

The best defense is a good offense. That is why we were pleased to see broadcasters who are used to battling each other for ad dollars and eyeballs finding common ground and purpose in the collective battle for their future.

A dozen broadcast groups—apostles, if you will, for a new message— have signed a memorandum of understanding to form a mobile DTV programming service. The message this document sends is clear: Broadcasting is mobile and relevant, ready to remake itself in the fight for its spectrum and its place alongside other multiplatform providers. The groups have pledged to roll up their sleeves and have a contract within a few months.

Broadcasters face the threat of a spectrum grab by the FCC, or the lure of big bucks that could achieve the same end. The FCC’s goal may be to serve the new god of endless apps, but if the result is marginalizing a broadcast service that remains a free, point-to-multipoint lifeline available to anyone with one of those converter boxes the government spent more than a billion to underwrite, the country will be poorer for it.

A defensive posture is a non-starter in the current political and technological environment. Broadband can and will be of great service to the public, but so is broadcasting. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said as much in his speech to the National Association of Broadcasters convention when he praised the industry as a public-service lifeline. He may have been simply trying to soften the blow of a spectrum policy that presupposes it is more valuable in someone else’s hands than in broadcasters’, but that didn’t make his praise any less on point.

“Many broadcasters still supply important connective tissue holding our communities together.” Those were the chairman’s words, not ours. And had they been ours, we would have said “most” rather than “many.”

The best strategy, demonstrated by the team now teeing up mobile DTV, is to show how valuable spectrum is in the hands of broadcasters, and ASAP. Mobile DTV, which will be tested in Washington starting next month, could be Exhibit A. No, make that at least Exhibit F, after DTV, HD, multicasting, local news and emergency information.

“The clock is ticking, and we need to get this stuff done,” Cox Media Group President Sandy Schwartz told B&C regarding the mobile initiative. “If we’re sitting here a year from now trying to hammer out an agreement, forget it, the world is going to pass us by.” We wouldn’t change a word of that statement.