Gordon Smith urges TV broadcasters to embrace the new

Gordon Smith at NAB Show keynoteNAB president Gordon Smith made a surprising appeal to TV broadcasters at the NAB Show keynote this morning. “The time has come for us to unite in our embrace of new technology,” Smith said, “and to realize the consequences if we don’t.”

I had expected that this NAB keynote address would be similar to those of years past, when speakers extolled the virtues of letting the marketplace work for retransmission consent (meaning that the stations have cable systems over a barrel and should be allowed to continue to take advantage), and that non-broadcast alternatives were inferior and should be fought with whatever means are available. Not this year.

Smith prepped his audience by quoting Winston Churchill, “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” Then rather than rail against Aereo and other threats to TV broadcasters’ second revenue stream, he seemed to suggest that the folks in the room should get out in front of streaming trends.

“For television, our future lies in our willingness to embrace new platforms, and to go where our viewers want to go,” Smith said. “Emerging technology presents a great opportunity for broadcasters to provide viewers with our highly valued content anywhere, on any device, anytime they want it.” Then he started talking about mobile TV, which is getting pushed harder this year. More about that in a later post. You can read a transcript of his prepared remarks here.

Smith was followed by Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the US House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Walden threw some red meat to the crowd, chastising the slow deliberations or overreach of the FCC. Mentioning the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), Walden said he’d have several more hearings and that he’s “not convinced that retransmission consent need reforming”.

After Walden was through, Smith returned to the podium and went off script. Not looking at the teleprompters, Smith told the broadcasters in the room that they need to reach out to their representatives so they’d become as informed as Walden. “Democracy goes to those who get involved,” Smith said.

I’ve said before here that Gordon Smith has been a much better spokesman for the NAB than his predecessor, even when he’s said things I disagree with. Today, he was more than a spokesman; he was a leader.