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NAB 2018: Smith Paints Bright Picture of Broadcasting's Future

National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith called on broadcasters to envision a world remade by new broadcast technology, one aided by NAB lobbying gains in recent months, as well as to envision a world without broadcasting.

The NAB president was waxing eloquent in his opening speech at the NAB Show in Las Vegas Monday (April 9), introduced as NAB’s ‘fearless leader.”

His theme, as he previewed for B&C last week, was "standing on the shoulders of giants."

Related: NAB Show Set to Tune into Video's Future

One thing he wanted attendees to see from that vantage was the gains they had made in Washington since last year, what he tabbed the "five enormous wins."

  •  "The FCC approved voluntary deployment of the Next Gen TV standard, which promises to deliver the benefits of ultra-high definition television, interactive features and customizable content to viewers.
  • "We again fought back attempts by the record labels to tax radio stations simply for promoting and playing the music listeners love to hear."
  • "We prevented a $169 billion tax on advertising that would hurt every broadcast station, as well as small businesses and vital, local jobs."
  • "More, the Commission made significant strides to modernize outdated media ownership rules.
  • "And, most recently, broadcasters were instrumental in securing $1 billion in legislation passed by Congress to reimburse radio and television stations for their costs during the spectrum repacking process, ensuring viewers and listeners don’t lose access to their stations."

That last win was greeted by applause.

But the speech was more about soaring vision than a laundry list of accomplishments.

He said broadcasters had always been driven by a "a sense of calling among them to be the public’s eyes and ears… to lead others out of darkness during times of crisis…to share profound moments…and to connect with our family, friends and neighbors."

He said broadcasting's mission is "to always be there, to be the voices against oppression…the megaphones for freedom and democracy…and to report the news without fear or favor."

He said that their vision of broadcasting's future must be driven by crucial investments in innovation, like the ATSC 3.0 advanced transmission standard or all-digital FM.

He cited NAB's partnership with Capitol Broadcasting on test ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, and ultra-high definition TV--of the Winter Olympics, as well as the "living laboratory" next-gen station, Tribune's WJW Cleveland, on which NAB is teaming with the Consumer Technology Association.

He also said that next gen TV test market in Phoenix (Pearl stations and Dallas (Sinclair) should be up and running this year.

Smith echoed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp at the recent NAB state leadership conference in Washington that he said resonated with him.

"She said when she talked to colleagues about broadcasters’ vital role in our communities, she liked to paint a picture for them of what life would be like without radio and TV stations," said Smith. "Just imagine…

  • "Who would tell us where to seek shelter when the storm is coming, and stay with us throughout the ordeal until the danger passes?
  • "Who would promote and support the charities that help our friends and neighbors in need?
  • "And who would investigate, produce and air the stories that uncover government corruption and protect us from consumer scams?

"To me, this would be a very bleak picture for our communities..."

But Smith painted an optimistic future, borrowing the brushstrokes of an iconic illustrator and artist.

"Some people criticized [Norman] Rockwell’s work, calling it a Pollyanna view of the world,” he said. “But, Norman knew what the American people needed and wanted to see, in order to envision better lives for themselves. So, he persisted in his work and gave the people shoulders to stand on, enabling them to see the best in themselves in gigantic ways. He said of his work, 'I paint life as I would like it to be.' We, too, can paint broadcasting as we’d like it to be."