NAB 2008: Rehr: ‘We Will Leave No TV Set Behind’

Las Vegas -- Making sure that 20 million households that could lose their access to free over-the-air broadcasts from their local stations don’t is the “highest TV priority” of the National Association of Broadcasters, its president and CEO said Monday.

“We will leave no TV set behind,” David Rehr said in his keynote opening the 2008 NAB Show here.

He said every household will be exposed to 642 messages about the fact that traditional broadcasting of analog signals over the air will end Feb. 17, 2009, and all local TV broadcasting will be by digital signals beginning Feb. 18, 2009.

That will be the result of $1 billion being spent on digital-TV education on-air, online, in grassroots efforts and in various other media.

The transition will allow broadcasters to develop “phenomenal services” in digital form, Rehr said, although he did not provide examples.

But he noted that the changeover will allow stations to demonstrate “the way TV should be” including “the jewel of digital broadcasting” -- HDTV.

Rehr said the NAB continued to work hard in Washington, D.C., on key issues, citing the Federal Communications Commission's adoption of an NAB-backed DTV-education plan; the NAB's ongoing effort to try to block the XM Satellite Radio-Sirius Satellite Radio merger and the use of unlicensed devices in the DTV-spectrum band; and the FCC's proposed localism initiatives, which NAB is hoping to counter with broadcaster evidence that TV stations are already serving their communities.

Rehr said of the departure from analog: "This is like leaving a home that we have lived in happily for many years, a home we've grown up in but now grown out of. It is time for us to move on. So we close the door."

The door is also opening, he said, to a large new revenue stream from digital signals being sent to a wide range of mobile devices, from cell phones to laptop computers to portable media players of increasing variety. Saying that he was buoyed by the prospects of live TV on more than 345 million mobile devices, he predicted that broadcast TV could rake in an additional $2 billion from the new revenue stream by 2012.

To get there, Rehr said, a technical standard for reaching mobile video devices needs to be established, from the Open Mobile Video Coalition or other source. In the meantime, the NAB started its own initiative, Fastroad, to help promote the development of mobile-video services.

But broadcasters can’t stop there in reinventing their products and services, he said, adding that with digits their only output, TV stations and networks must find ways to be “leading the digital revolution.”

“We must begin to make the Internet part of our DNA,” he said.

Although Rehr talked about radio at the front end of his speech, he began the talk with a shout-out to YouTube. "Some people might think that, as head of the National Association of Broadcasters, I might not like that upstart YouTube," he said. "The truth is that I am intrigued by YouTube. It's funny. It's offbeat. It's free.”

He continued, "I think we can all agree that what you find on YouTube is a different world. It certainly is a different world for me. And it raises this question for radio and TV broadcasting: Because of YouTube, because of the Internet, because of cell phones and iPods, is our model broken?”

John Eggerton contributed to this report.

For complete coverage of the 2008 NAB Show, click here.