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TVB: Digital, Spectrum, FCC, Wheeler Are Buzzwords at Forward Conference

New York — TVB kicked of its sixth annual Forward conference Thursday, with broadcasters and analysts from the morning session’s panels asserting TV’s staying power, assessing the curious case of digital and criticizing the FCC and its chairman Tom Wheeler.

At the Waldorf Astoria, Michael Wolff, the longtime media business observer and author of Television Is the New Television, said that if people think of TV as dinosaurs, then “dinosaurs are going to continue to roam the earth and rule it.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey, Wolff said that despite everyone proclaiming for the last 15 years that digital media was the future, “it’s all a lie."

“People like to watch television. Why should we do anything different?” he said, adding that it’s an “incontrovertible fact” that more people watch TV than ever before and the challenge facing the media business is moving into the post-advertising world. "The game to win is in the TV business, not the digital business."

During the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) Analysis panel, Larry Patrick said Wheeler and the FCC are the biggest threat and urged broadcasters to go to their congressmen for protection.

Nevertheless, the Patrick Communications managing partner sees the long-term prognosis of television as strong, especially with a presidential election coming up next year. “If you’re in a (swing) state next year, you can be in great shape,” he said, adding that the benefit of many GOP candidates is all their PAC money . “You want them to buy as much as time as they can.”

MyersBizNet chairman and media ecologist Jack Myers even suggested expanding news coverage during political season.

Frank N. Magid Associates executive VP Bill Hague said the biggest threat in his opinion is local advertisers and agencies in confusion, chasing shiny objects like apps, even though they don’t know why. The biggest opportunity, he said is merging platforms, while the biggest strength is broadcast TV’s scarcity. “Sight, sound and TV; local television wins," he said

Myers said there is so much data that it is confusing the issue, moving further from engagement. “We need to double down on engaging our audiences, connecting with advertisers at national and local level,” he said.

During the Digital Disrupters panel, Roger Keating said for the first time Internet is poised to champion video. “Internet has come around to embrace the amazing value of video and advertising,” said the senior VP of digital media at Hearst Television.

The Word from Wall Street panel touched on spectrum and cord-cutting. Todd Juenger, senior analyst, U.S. media, at Sanford C. Bernstein, said there are a lot of myths about the spectrum auction. “Wall Street’s spectrum knowledge has gone from very little to just a little bit more than that,” he said.

“I would push Wheeler to talk to wireless companies,” added Marci Ryvicker, managing director of Wells Fargo Securities.

As for cord-cutting, Michael Nathanson, partner and senior research analyst at MoffettNathanson, is not worried. “The scale of cord-cutting fears are overstated,” he said. “It’s happening but it’s fluid.”

The idea that it has been a threat has been around for decades, Juenger said. The difference now is all the alternatives, broadband speed and a new generation that has grown up with the Internet.

“It’s still small,” he said, “but it’s gone from a fraction of a percent to a higher fraction of a percent.”

Finally, Raycom Media president and CEO Paul McTear, honored as B&C Broadcaster of the Year, emphasized the importance of being about local and about news. “We need to continue to find out where our audience is and where our audience is going,” he said, and expand accordingly.