Coalition kicks off battle to protect the future of free TV


The aptly-named Future of TV Coalition sprang into being Tuesday 11/1/11 with a session that laid out the reasons that free over-the-air television needs to be considered a primary resource for American citizens and needs to be a part of the nation’s digital future. As NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith put it, “We’re all for the first responders, and America needs to understand that we are the first informers.”

There are many reasons to protect free digital television, but times of emergency present the most compelling reasons. The broadcast one-to-many distribution model is critical at such times – attempts by citizens to use the one-to-one broadband model inevitably flood the spectrum and create a situation where nobody can access critical information.

Participants in the Future of TV Coalition event cited other compelling reasons to protect over-the-air digital television. They noted its importance in serving niche demographics, providing emergency information efficiently and in providing cost-effective quality program options for citizens.

Andrew Young is the possessor of a lengthy and distinguished resume, and is currently a co-founder of Bounce TV, the first African-American program service that is available over the airwaves. Its presence there is completely due to the use of digital multicasting technology. Young said the service is reaching about 65% of the African-American community, and is about to expand into Washington DC in partnership with Gannett and its CBS WUSA. In addition to bring new program options to many, and the only African-American option to those who do not have an MVPD subscription, Young said the network is also providing the first opportunity for many small businesses to advertise to this community. He is looking forward to the network’s continued growth. “Almost anything is possible when you have an outlet,” he said.

Carmen DeRienzo had a similar story to share about Vme Media, except whereas Bounce serves the African-American minority and is partnering primarily with commercial televisions stations, her network serves the Hispanic community and uses multicast capabilities of over 40 public television stations to supplement its carriage on MVPDs. She said the broadcast presence is very important for a community with a large contingent of households that do not subscribe to MVPD service – some 12M — and bring in less than $40K annually. She said the preschool, educational, lifestyle, health, and news/info programming informational programming is helping make Vme (pronounced veh-may) on of the fastest-growing program sources in the US. “Digital TV is a huge free part of the digital future,” observed DeRienzo, who added it was a huge part of bridging the digital divide.

Gannett Broadcasting’s Dave Lougee represented the Open Mobile Video Coalition, which has been working to gain a TV presence on mobile devices.

Finally, Richard Schnieder, president Antennas Direct, discussed how in his case a hobby turned into a rapidly-growing business. He developed a high-def antenna and hoped to sell the first hundred over four or five months, but they sold out within 15 minutes after being offered on an unheralded website. From there, it’s been a steady and rapid growth proposition that has continued well beyond the DTV transition of June 2009. He said the younger generation sees free TV as a best value, and his antenna are “liberating” his customers from an often unhappy relationship with the MVPD community. Schnieder said the crisp high-def delivery increasing amount of program via multicast of free over-the-air TV are driving his business.

Smith acknowledged that there is a lot of momentum behind the move toward incentive auctions, but noted the danger of channel repacking and the relatively small impact any auction would have on the massive federal deficit. He said NAB and FOTV would be working hard to prevent any damage to the medium.

RBR-TVBR observation: The case for broadcast television is strong. So is the urge for cash on Capitol Hill. We sincerely hope that Congress will not blindly rush into legislation on this complex issue just to take one snowflake out of a blizzard of debt.