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NAB's Smith: Big Tech Threatens Local News

Gordon Smith during the 2019 NAB Show
(Image credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video, Kevin Jones, Adam Shane, Lisa Staszewski and Timm Andrews)

There is a definite competition problem with digital platforms vis a vis broadcasters that Congress needs to address and one that threatens a healthy local news ecosystem during the pandemic, and beyond.

That was the message from National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith in response to a request for comment from the House Antitrust Subcommittee in its ongoing investigation into Big Tech market power and how that affects "a free and diverse press."

NAB said that power has real world impacts that are detrimental to that free and diverse press. Specifically, it is the move of ad dollars to digital platforms, which despite the Justice Department's "woefully outdated view of the marketplace," NAB said definitely compete directly with broadcasters for those ad dollars, revenues that are even more critical in a pandemic-wracked economy. But it is also receiving pennies on the dollar for their news content from online providers who have the bargaining power.

Smith suggested that competitive problem is an existential threat: "[T]he dominance of the leading digital platforms significantly and increasingly impairs broadcasters’ ability to earn the ad revenues needed to support production of local news and information."

He said it was no answer to say that if broadcasters don't like the policies of Google and YouTube or Facebook they can choose not to publish content on those platforms, and thus not be available on various apps and devices. "Beyond offering OTA [over-the-air] services, broadcasters must be available on all major platforms and types of devices to remain relevant to audiences and advertisers in the digital age," he told the subcommittee.

The bottom line, he suggested: "Local journalism is now at risk due to the overwhelming competitive position of a handful of technology companies in today’s digital marketplace... The value of broadcasting and local journalism in an increasingly digital world has never been more obvious; so too, the threat that the digital platforms’ power poses to news publishing and the continued viability of local media outlets has never been greater."