NAB: Smith to FCC--Where's the National Broadcast Plan?

Click Here for Complete NAB Coverage.

Related: Mr. Smith Goes Off on Washington

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith delivered a fiery challenge to the FCC to support broadcasters' efforts to compete, or at least get out of their way.

No other medium, including broadband, better serves the public in time of crisis, said Smith.

"We are here to be the public's eyes and ears, to lead them out of darkness during times of crisis, to share profound moments, and to connect to our family, friends and neighbors," Smith told a substantial opening session crowd. "We are here to be the voices against oppression and we are here to be megaphones for freedom and democracy."

Local broadcast, he added, contributes nearly $1.3 trillion to the gross domestic product.

Smith expressed bewilderment that the FCC chooses, in his view, to interfere with broadcasters, including the Commission's recent ruling that cracks down on joint sales agreements, while giving preference to cable and wireless.

Smith proposed a "National Broadcast Plan" — a response to the government's National Broadband Plan — that would include, among other things, a review of regulations that he said holds back innovation and competition.

"Why is there no focus to foster innovation and investment in broadcasting to ensure our business continues to be a world leader alongside our broadband industries?" he said.

Smith lobbed barbs at the broadband players that are clamoring for swathes of the broadcast spectrum.

"The wireless industry covets our spectrum, because they chew through their massive allocation of spectrum, attempting to deliver the video we deliver far more efficiently," said Smith. "And they continue to milk, bilk and bill by the bit."

Applause erupted after Smith quoted a Wall Street Journal article that said broadcasting kept more than 8 million people safe during Hurricane Sandy.

"Broadband can't do that," he said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler addresses the NAB masses April 8.

Smith's oratory struck a chord with veteran broadcasters assembled at LVH.

"It was a great rallying cry for the television industry," said Paul McTear, Raycom Media president and CEO. "It was good to see him challenge the FCC to allow broadcasters the right to compete in the future, in light of recent rulings that were more exclusionary. I thought he did a good job."

A former U.S. senator, Smith is a polished communicator who's intimately familiar with how things get done/don't get done in the marble corridors of Washington.

"He's very eloquent," said Phil Lombardo, Citadel Communications CEO. "He showed that he knows our business and knows our business intimately."

Following the opening address, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was given the Distinguished Service award by the NAB.

He challenged reporters to "speak truth to power" at all costs, especially on vital issues to Univision viewers such as immigration. He toasted the enormous growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S.

"It's a great time to be a Latino journalist," he said. "We have found our voice — in English and in Spanish."

Following Ramos to the stage was Haim Saban, chairman and CEO Saban Capital Group and chairman of Univision, who sat for a lively Q&A with Gordon Smith. Saban spoke of his days in a Beatles cover band ("I was a really lousy player so they kicked me out and made me the manager.”), his success in turning Mighty Morphin Power Rangers into a smash, and the unique relationship between Univision and its viewers.

"Univision really is the home away from home for our community," said Saban.

Saban too took shots at the FCC, launching a thousand laughs and a bunch of tweets when he said the FCC stood for "Friendly Cable Commission."

He stressed the importance of a new transmission standard to help broadcasting thrive on all platforms.

Saban's mandate to the technology people working on the initiative: "Make it freakin' happen."

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.