Appearing on C-SPAN’s Communicator series, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said that there are three major issues on the association’s plate – spectrum reallocation, retransmission consent and performance rights. He welcomed the split government currently sitting in Washington, which he said will make it harder for any ill-considered legislation to make it to the Oval Office for a signature.

Still, Smith did not think split government was absolutely necessary to furthering the NAB’s agenda, since the issues of concern tend to cut across party lines. But he noted that the procedural hurdles created by divided government, combined with the original design of the government by the founding fathers, will likely help the NAB head off any undesirable outcomes in the current Congress.

Much of the time was spent on spectrum.

Smith restated the need for a complete spectrum inventory before proceeding with any reallocation of TV’s space. He noted that television just got to its new digital place two years ago, and is interested in maximizing its new digital ability in terms of multicasting and mobile delivery, to name just two innovations. He said that NAB was OK with voluntary participation in a spectrum auction, as long as it remains voluntary.

He also expressed skepticism about the whole process. First of all, without the spectrum inventory, he wondered how the FCC could know how much spectrum it really required; second, he noted that the biggest spectrum crunch exists in a very few large markets, and does not and will not affect large portions of the nation; finally, in a Congress where members look at spectrum auction cash as a source of funding for pet projects, he wondered how much of that cash would ever make it to broadcast participants.

Asked about a remark Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) made on the matter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski during a hearing with — “I want you to know I have some dark suspicions on this matter.” – he agreed and said NAB wants to make sure voluntary remains voluntary.

He also noted the efficiency of the broadcast model – one signal to many receivers, as opposed to mobile’s one-to-one bandwidth-hogging approach, and said broadcasters give it for free while the others charge a fee.
On retrans, he simply asks that the FCC respect the current free-market negotiations that currently provide a peaceful disruption-free outcome 99% of the time.

Asked about indecency, he said, “Broadcasters aren’t in the indecency business.” He said they hew to a higher standard, and that notwithstanding the occasional fleeting expletive or wardrobe malfunction, broadcasters do a great job of avoiding indecent content. He thinks broadcasters are sometimes mixed up with cable programmers.

Asked about the Performance Right Act, he said, “We got really close with them. We’re still at the table, we hope they come back. We think there’s a community of interest, but I can’t and won’t abandon radio small and large to a new fee that ultimately has an equal economic value of promotion. They give us play, we give them free advertising. And nobody gets a Grammy that hasn’t been on radio first.”

Smith said he is looking forward to once again working with former colleague Chris Dodd, former Sen. (D-CT) and now head of MPAA. He said they didn’t often vote together but got along great together and expected that would continue when they pursue issues of mutual interest.

Smith has four simple requests of Congress and the FCC:

* Don’t tax us

* Let us innovate

* Let us go mobile

* Let us multicast

RBR-TVBR observation: In Washington right now, the hurdles are in front of MVPDs, who want government intervention in retransmission negotiations; the FCC, which wants to give cash to broadcasters from auctions; and record labels, which want to extract cash from radio stations. NAB is on the other side of the hurdles, trying to prevent their crossing. That is a much easier job, but one that cannot be taken lightly. It’s good to be on defense, but play it tough, broadcasters, play it tough.

Gordon Smith discussing broadcast issues: