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NAB 2010: Q&A With Cox's Sandy Schwartz

NAB 2010: Complete Coverage from B&C

The announcement April 13 at the NAB Show that 12 broadcast groups are partnering to provide content and spectrum for a national mobile DTV network represents an important feat of cooperation among competing broadcasters. But this is no kumbaya moment, says Cox Media Group President Sandy Schwartz. "We don't have time for that."

Cox is among the dozen station groups that comprise Pearl Mobile DTV Company LLC, which aims to reach 150 million U.S. residents (the other members are Belo Corp., Scripps, Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, ION Television, Media General Inc., Meredith, NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations, and Raycom).

Schwartz spoke with B&C from Las Vegas just hours after the new company announced its memorandum of understanding and started to roll up its collective sleeves on a contract he said should be hammered out in a few months. If they take too long getting the service going, "forget it," he says, the world will have passed them by. Following is an edited transcript of the interview:

There has been talk of the Pearl project for several months. What was the big news with this announcement?

What was announced was a memo of understanding that all of the media groups involved were going to work together to get this joint venture off the ground. I think we can get to a contract stage pretty soon.

Cox is a local broadcaster. We own 15 TV stations. To me it is really exciting because in any single market, it is very difficult to get something like this off the ground and moving. With this coalition, I think that we can really serve our customers by putting together great programming on a broad basis, and also, with this type of infrastructure, be able to do things in the local market.

I think this group together, using all of its resources and brain power, clearly will enable us to get mobile TV off the ground and make it meaningful. This isn't just going to be a repeat of what we already do on the air.

Will this be a programming and advertising consortium?

It will clearly have advertising on it. And I think it will be a network and have important local information including emergency information. I don't think any one
broadcaster could do this very well. And it should be a for-profit business.

Where do you stand with conversations with the cellular carriers about your service?

We are in the early stages. We have talked to a couple of carriers. I can't get into that because we don't have any contracts in place but we have talked to a couple of carriers and we have gotten nothing but positive feedback from the people we've talked to.

Any timetable for when the service might be rolled out?

We got the MOU done and we are getting to work today to start to hammer out, and we already have in some ways, the formal agreement. My hope is that in the next several months we can get that done, but I don't think that we have to get this agreement totally done and then going to a period of starting this up. I think there are some things that we can do while the lawyers are hammering out the definitive agreement.

I feel really good about the memo of understanding. It is broad-based but I think it is one that is very doable. This isn't one of those times when we just got together and held hands and said 'let's make nice.'

So this is not a kumbaya moment?

It really isn't. We don't have time for that. The world is changing and we have to change quickly with it. We don't have time to pat ourselves on the back and feel good about things.

The clock is ticking and we need to get this stuff done. 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're up against it and we need to get this thing moving. There is an opportunity for some quality programming out there."

You can talk nice and do the kumbaya thing for a month or two, and then you really have to cut the mustard and decide if you are going to do it. Maybe I am just naive, but I am confident we will get this done and we will have something operating and a really good business plan in due time. I think we have gotten past the stage of being uncomfrotable with each other and have decided that, hey, look, we all compete in some ways, but at the same time, there are things we can do together.

So, the question would be, can companies like this really work together. I think the answer is, yes.

Is anyone else interested in joining?

We have had some other inquiries, but for right now we think it is important for this group to be this size and these players. I think that the thing could get bigger and change, but we are focused on getting this thing off the ground and the bigger the group is the more difficut it is to move forward. We don't feel like we have the corner on this, and as time goes on and we get moving, we are open to having those discussions.

We have said, "Do us a favor and kind of sit on the sidelines for now, but there will be a time when that will work." And I do believe there will be a time when we will able to get some other people in this coalition.