Be More Like Netflix, Says FCC's Tom Wheeler to Broadcasters
While the internet has become the place for young Americans to get all forms of entertainment and news, TV broadcasters are being left in the dust by online media. This week, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission both accused each other of being asleep at the wheel.
The National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB) annual convention in Las Vegas took place this week, and NAB's chief Gordon Smith kicked off the event by accusing the FCC of favoring broadband and internet media over their own concerns in his keynote address.
While saying that it's an "exciting time to be in the media business," and that "broadband ... is a game-changer," Smith intoned that the FCC was treating them "as if we are dinosaurs and does what it can to encourage TV stations to go out of business." Later Smith added that "the FCC has continued to regulate broadcasters as if the world is stuck in the 1970s."
TV broadcasters are upset that the FCC hasn't prepared a National Broadcast Plan to protect their interests, and instead has moved to free up more of the limited wireless spectrum for wireless data carriers and other innovation -- setting up a round of spectrum auctions to incentivize broadcasters in various regions to give up sole control of some of the spectrum they hold. Wireless spectrum, or the bands that cellphones, walkie-talkies, radar, TV, and other applications use to transmit data, is a limited resource by physical law. Television broadcasters used to control a lot more spectrum until the digital revolution enabled more efficient use of it.
On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler visited the NAB and told broadcasters, essentially, that they're the ones acting like dinosaurs. Drawing an analogy to canal companies being buried by the innovation of railroads in the 19th century, Wheeler called for more innovation from local TV broadcasters and for them to make the transformation to new, internet-powered, media.
"We would like to help 'television stations' ... to pivot to become digital 'information providers," said Wheeler. "Broadcast licensees have a powerful opportunity to bring the benefits of competition to the new media market. When I look at broadcasting I see the traditional public trust where you received spectrum and in return provided important public benefits," Wheeler continued, referring to the importance of local news and educational programming. "And I don't see that changing," he added. "But I also hope we can see local broadcast licensees as a growing source of competition in the digital market."
The inside-industry contention over spectrum auctions aside, Wheeler has a point about local broadcasting and new media. When's the last time you turned on your Xbox and clicked on your local TV's news app? Never, because they don't do that.
Basically, as others have pointed out, Netflix, Hulu, and other "over the top" (OTT) online video services are eating local broadcast's lunch, when it comes to modern viewers. "Broadcast licensees are in the pole position to leverage off that trend to deliver broader OTT services anchored in local news and information," said Wheeler.
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