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'Unfair' Field

CEOs Seek FCC Help on Broadcasting

Regulators and lawmakers need to create a more friendly regulatory environment for broadcasters if they want to preserve local journalism and continue living in a democracy, said Hearst Television President Jordan Wertlieb and E.W. Scripps CEO Adam Symson at NAB New York Wednesday. Panels at the event also touched on cybercrime, the advertising market and ATSC 3.0.

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Don’t wait until it’s too late,” said Symson in a speech. “We are under the same pressures that have already rendered newspapers a shell of their former selves.” “We’re in an environment right now where the playing field is unfair,” said Wertlieb. “if you want to preserve local broadcasting and local news and not have news desserts ... we’re going to need regulatory help.”

Broadcasters need Congress to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and the FCC to take up proposals to treat streaming services as MVPDs, Wertlieb said in an interview. “I’m hopeful that since the [virtual MVPD] item is still open, they would be willing to listen to broadcasters who desperately need that kind of support.” The FCC and DOJ need to take the “true advertising landscape” into account in their ownership rules and recognize that the “fallacy” that broadcasters don’t compete with tech companies for ad dollars. “The rules as they exist today have been set up for a time that is gone.”

Symson also urged advertisers to commit to spending money only with “responsible media platforms on responsible platforms” that stand for “the very same values of democracy and community stewardship” that many companies publicly claim to support. “The American democracy depends on facts-based news and information,” Symson said. “If we like living in a healthy democracy, you need to spend your money like it.

The FCC should also ease the ATSC 3.0 transition, said Pearl TV Managing Director Anne Schelle during a panel on the new standard. An FCC proceeding on clarifying rules for multicast channels “has been sitting there a long time,” she said. She also said the agency should relax the “substantially similar” requirement to give broadcasters more flexibility to showcase 3.0’s capabilities. “The commission needs to join us, to help us get through this transition,” she said. ATSC President Madeleine Noland said the committee has begun working on a new codec that would allow ATSC 1.0 channels to take up less spectrum, freeing up more to use for 3.0. India, Brazil and Jamaica are taking up ATSC 3.0, she said.

ATSC 3.0 has “reached escape velocity” with the availability of 4.5 million 3.0 compatible TVs, Ripley said. For broadcasters to start getting more revenue from the new standard, more applications for datacasting need to be developed. While 3.0 will enhance the capability of broadcasters to monetize TV viewers, Ripley said it will be hard to see that improvement in a budget line item. Enhanced GPS accuracy is one of the more promising uses for datacasting, he said. “If you think we’re headed for a world where Amazon drones drop boxes on your doorstep, this is ideal for that,” he said.

Auto advertising has started to slowly return to TV stations, said a panel with Wertlieb, Sinclair Broadcast CEO Chris Ripley and Graham Media CEO Catherine Badalamente. Wertlieb said he can’t predict how a recession would affect broadcasters because their business is very different from what it was during the last recession in 2008. Broadcasters are no longer as dependent on retail and automotive ads, and categories such as sports gambling and pharmaceuticals have become more important.

Broadcasting hasn’t been strongly affected by “The Great Resignation,” said the broadcast CEOs. Turnover levels are largely the same as in past years, but hiring and filling positions has become more difficult, said Ripley. Wertlieb and Ripley said even the hiring issue had begun to improve recently, and most of the broadcasters stepped up their employee recruitment efforts, they said.

FCC proposals to require more reporting and transparency on cybersecurity incidents are “a good thing for the industry,” said Cox Media Chief Information Security Officer Ray Griffin during a cybercrime panel. “The opportunity to understand how other companies are being attacked is valuable to us.” CISOs from Sinclair and Gray agreed. “It’s not a bad thing,” said Sinclair CISO John McClure. Companies need to cease thinking of cybercrime as a technology problem and more of a business threat, said McClure.