Local Broadcasting’s Ace in the Hole: The Local News

Local broadcasters are uncovering some challenges in our nation’s capital. That’s because the FCC, on a party line vote, restricted the ability of television stations to share advertising in the same market. The FCC has also set aside larger portions of the broadcast spectrum for wireless carriers.

However, that does not mean that local broadcasting is going extinct.

Gordon Smith Is Optimistic

At the industry’s national convention in April, Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said that he is confident of a turnaround.

“While I may be frustrated, I’m not discouraged because I know how this ends,” he said.

Smith knows something about Capitol Hill. He used to be a Senator. So it’s not surprising that he recently spent time talking with FCC staffers and commissioners. One of those meetings was behind closed doors with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

Wheeler had to convince broadcasters that he wasn’t aiming for their destruction.

“Trust me. I get the skepticism. Here’s the former head of the cable and the wireless industry at the NAB telling you he’s your friend. There is no more ridiculous metaphor,” he told broadcasters at the annual convention in Las Vegas.

His efforts fell on deaf ears. Broadcasters viewed him as someone who simply doesn’t understand the business as well as they do.

A Secret Weapon

Smith, for his part, remains optimistic. He thinks that Wheeler, he used to be a lobbyist for cable and wireless, will see broadcasting differently after spending time at the NAB convention.

“There’s always value in seeing human faces and concerns, upfront and personal,” Smith said. “Clearly he [Wheeler] said some things that missed the mark. He’s encouraging us to put more content online, yet our websites are already the most visited. The notion that you can take broadcast content as a substitute for broadcasting invariably runs into the laws of physics; it will always crash.”

Smith also points to a secret weapon that’s unique to broadcasters: local news.

“We have a lot of swat in the corridors of power because we have something that is unique and indispensable, live, local broadcasting that includes all the American people. Members of Congress understand that,” Smith said. “We are the very best megaphone to their constituents.”

It’s going to be tough for cable to compete with that.

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