Optimism and attendance high at the NAB Show


No numbers have been released, but attendance appears to have rebounded at the NAB Show, just as business is rebounding for broadcasters, who are generally upbeat at the gathering in Las Vegas. The worries are about Washington, where broadcasters are battling proposed performance royalties for radio and a spectrum grab from television.

Having come from the Garvey Schubert Barer law firm breakfast with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (D), RBR-TVBR found the Barron Room at the Las Vegas Hilton packed for the opening session. Yes, there were a few scattered open chairs remaining, but not many. And some people skipped out after the Sony 3D video demo, so it wasn’t just the crowd appeal of actor Michael J. Fox, who received the NAB Distinguished Service Award, which packed the room

In conversations with broadcasters, what we’re hearing is that business is good. In some cases people are talking about double-digit percentage gains. Entercom CEO David Field is no longer being viewed as a wild-eyed optimist for his prediction at last fall’s NAB Radio Show that the industry could be up double digits in 2010.

Commissioner Clyburn said it should be no surprise that the FCC is looking at TV broadcast spectrum as it looks in all directions for spectrum to deploy new services, such as wireless broadband. But she noted that she had lived most of her life in an over-the-air-only TV household. She noted the public service that broadcasters have provided and still do – and assured broadcasters that will be considered when making spectrum policy.

In his first address to the spring convention as President and CEO of the NAB, former Senator Gordon Smith offered this explanation of why he was hired for the job: “I know politics.” Smith noted the three big challenges facing broadcasters in Washington, DC. He said the attempt by record labels to collect performance royalties from radio stations is basically seeking a bailout. “I think the American people have had enough of bailouts,” he said.

He applauded FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for his work to meet the congressional demand for a comprehensive broadband policy, but took issue with the final language that indicated that the effort to win back some television spectrum to use for broadband may not be as voluntary as the Commission tried to spin it. Having already given back a large chunk in the DTV transition, Smith warned that “broadcasting is not an ATM that can keep spitting out spectrum.”

NAB is also fighting efforts by the cable and satellite companies to change the retransmission consent system. Smith insisted that broadcasters deserve to be fairly compensated for their content. And he noted that local broadcast TV channels are the backbone of every pay TV package that is sold.”

Speaking earlier, Commissioner Clyburn had said it was “murky at best” whether the FCC has the legal authority to make the retrans changes being sought by the cable and satellite providers. She also questioned whether it is necessary for the FCC to get involved in business negotiations between sophisticated companies.

Clyburn spoke at length about her desire to increase the “paltry numbers” of broadcast stations owned by women and minorities. However, she noted the access to capital problem that currently applies to all would-be broadcasters, not just women and minorities. And if anyone has some solutions to suggest, “You’ve got a commissioner who is willing to listen.”

In the meantime, Clyburn said she hopes entrepreneurs will seek out other possibilities as well. “The Internet provides a rare opportunity,” she said, for start-ups.