JWR Articles: Commentary

NAB Show 2012

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The race is on for content-on-demand listeners and viewers

The 2012 edition of the NAB Show got off to an engaging start fuelled by the three pillars of broadcast content: news, emergencies and entertainment.

Desperate Housewives diva, Teri Hatcher (in town for a day away from shooting the final episode of the long-running series), was the congenial host, clearly delighting the male speakers as they took their turns on the podium trying to shed light on the industry’s past, present and future.

How appropriate that the winner of this year’s NAB Distinguished Service Award went to the E. W. Scripps Company, whose mantra, “Give light and the people will find their own way,” need only be slightly adjusted to “Give light on their schedule and interests and the masses will find their own way” to describe the content dilemma that is challenging the marketplace and causing boardroom emergencies for one-to-many broadcasters whose demise is highly anticipated by Internet, cable and satellite carriers.

No worries. NAB President and CEO (and self-described recovering politician) Gordon Smith assured the crowd of his employers that “Radio and TV will remain indispensable media … NAB is back and we’re keeping our eye on the future.”

Having won the battle but likely not the war over spectrum access, Smith encouraged everyone to continue their collective efforts to make their content available “to all people, at all times and on every device.” Despite the fact that business models for Internet and mobile devices have yet to open the revenue floodgates in the same manner as traditional over-the-air broadcasting, everyone realizes that if their programming isn’t instantly accessible to increasingly demanding consumers 24/7 on any product with a screen, then those eyeballs and ears will fill the coffers of their competitors who—at the moment—are far more adept at engaging their clientele in a far more intimate one-to-one relationship.

As Smith concluded, “Will we have the courage and conviction to seize and invest in [broadcasting’s new moment to flourish]? Don’t change that channel! (Unless the coming voluntary spectrum incentive auction literally sends some stations elsewhere on the dial—cross reference below for the FCC view).

To further reinforce the conference theme, “The Great Content Shift: Define your revolution,” Freakonomics guru Stephen Dubner took the stage to offer his wisdom about the “diceyness” (a perfect descriptor here in Las Vegas) of planning the future based on statistical data (as witness the marked decline in accuracy of daily weather reports once they go out further than 48 hours) and perfectly apt discussion as to how the economics of horse manure contains many transferrable lessons even as the broadcasters—to varying degrees—are tentatively dipping their toes or wholeheartedly belly flopping into the sea change of digital content delivery platforms and devices.

Lurking intriguingly in the midst of his bathroom-based research which amusingly yielded the difference between the declared and revealed preferences of respondents to a fact-finding question (no doubt, not a man in the room would fail to wash his hands during his next foray into a public urinal), the notion that “technology creates opportunities and unexpected results” gave everyone a moment’s pause. Will the current stampede by content providers of all stripes to satisfy the me-I desires of the social media revolutionaries (would there have been an Arab Spring without Facebook and the like?) result in cash in the bank or has the real driver of long-lasting relationships with viewers and listeners somehow been lost in the effort, letting the consumer wag the media’s tail.

Tellingly, even as we learned that horses in NYC dropped in the order of five million tons of “waste” per day on the grid-planned streets a century ago, the notion of quality was not on the set. Or will access to anything whenever I want it trump verifiable journalism and storytelling of the first rank? Perhaps the increasingly tweeting populous will eventually recreate the digital universe in its own images. JWR

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Newsmaker - Gordon H. Smith
Host - Teri Hatcher
Keynote Speaker - Stephen J. Dubner
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