National Association of Broadcasters President/CEO Gordon Smith has been on the job for just about a year now, and the expiration of his ban on lobbying his former colleagues in Congress is about to expire. He sat down with the National Journal to take a step back and look at where broadcasting is and where it is headed.
On the hot topic of the Performance Right Act, Smith said that talks with the music industry continue. He said that recording companies never figured artist compensation into their own equation, and broadcasters have been compensating copyright holders all along. Broadcasters as such are not happy about suddenly paying more money for nothing, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that the very airplay labels want compensation for is a key to marketing the music in the first place.
Smith said the talks are an attempt to find a revenue-neutral solution – if broadcasters are going to have a new bill to pay, they must have a new revenue source to compensate, and that’s where the request for a radio chip in cell phones comes in.
Smith said that the NAB is looking only for modest relaxation of the rules as the FCC plows through its latest quadrennial review. He focused entirely on cross-ownership, noting that if a television station thinks it can improve local journalism by taking on stewardship of a struggling newspaper, or by adding a radio station to its operation, it should be allowed.
Speaking to the FCC’s search for spectrum in the television band, he said he takes Chairman Julius Genachowski at his word, in that any such search will be voluntary. And that said, he suggested that broadcasters aren’t very likely to bite – rather, they are looking to use the spectrum they have to expand their service into multicasting, mobile service and maybe 3-D broadcast.
Asked about contentious retransmission negotiations, Smith pointed out that broadcasters are like any other business in any other sector that needs to be fairly compensated for its output, and that communications companies are no different than companies in any other business sector that run into an occasional impasse. He said that broadcasters are always careful to explain to their viewers how to continue to receive their programming off air when it is temporarily pulled from an MVPD.
RBR-TVBR observation: The upshot is that the NAB, and broadcasters, have a lot of balls in the air, and 2011 could be a very busy year in the standard Washington venues where broadcast policy, law and regulation is crafted.