Broadcasters’ Future Hinges on Digital

Free, over-the-air broadcasting will fade into oblivion unless broadcasters embrace their digital future, stand up for the their rights and shake off their complacency, Consumer ElectronicsAssociation (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro told a standing-room-only crowd of broadcasters here today. In a keynote address before the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) BroadcastEngineering Conference, Shapiro outlined eight suggestions for broadcasters to maintain the relevance of their industry.

“Simply put, broadcasting as a medium is challenged,” said Shapiro. “The digital transition is our national opportunity and destiny, but complacency could make it a [broadcasters’] swan song.”

In his eight-point plan, Shapiro urged the broadcasting industry to shift to high-definition television (HDTV) quickly. He called on broadcasters to promote their HDTV offerings more robustly and broadcast their HD channels at full power. He also warned them not to be sidetracked by other “technological mirages” such as multicasting.

“The market has spoken – HDTV is driving this transition. So why continue to lose market share to HBO, Showtime, Discovery, ESPN and everyone else that offers 24-hour HDTV channels? Don’t you think that the nine million Americans who already have HD will be looking to watch quality programming in HDTV?”

Shapiro also encouraged broadcasters to use and leverage the surround sound capabilities of HDTV. “Sound matters,” said Shapiro. “It is part of the HDTV experience. Use it! Consumers notice and appreciate it and it makes a difference.”

In the same vein, Shapiro called on broadcasters to rush to HD radio, noting that the technology is now showing its success and looks like a marketplace hit.

“Sound also matters in the radio world,” Shapiro argued. “Satellite services will grow but radio broadcasters have a window of opportunity to reclaim their share of American ears. But it does require broadcasters to convert their stations to digital broadcasting and aggressively promote HD radio to consumers. If radio broadcasters are complacent, HD radio will wither and broadcasters will further lose market share.”

Shapiro also urged the broadcast industry to protect consumer home recording rights, arguing that consumers will resist HD radio and other new broadcast formats if it means they have to forfeit their normal, noncommercial home recording rights. Further, he encouraged broadcasters to stand up and fight for the First Amendment in an era of increased regulatory scrutiny and dangerously vague definitions for indecency.

“As fear over government action dilutes broadcast creativity, as consolidation reduces diversity and as the business model squeezes finances, broadcasters must act to ensure that broadcasting does not become a bland, ignored and irrelevant wasteland,” he argued.

Shapiro’s address came on the 11th anniversary of his first keynote before the NAB Engineering Conference. During today’s remarks, Shapiro reflected back on the eight-point plan he offered in 1993 to enhance analog and embrace digital, including urging broadcasters to embrace closed captioning, develop extended data services, embrace HDTV and focus on digital radio. Shapiro today graded his performance in hindsight.

“My 1993 prescriptions for broadcasters were essentially correct,” noted Shapiro. “I think I do have a good track record for analyzing industry and technology trends. And I hope to return in 2015 for another look back and look forward.”

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