Local Broadcasters Seek to Exploit Facebook Woes, "Fake News" Culture

"Broadcasters are competing for viewers and advertisers against gigantic multinational players," NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith tells THR ahead of the annual bash, taking place at the Las Vegas Convention Center April 7-12.
Robb Cohen Photography and Video; Santiago Filipe/Getty Images
Inset: NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith

More than 100,000 broadcasters, manufacturers, content creators and politicians are expected at the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show when it kicks off April 7 in Las Vegas. The opening session alone will feature YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan; House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Greg Walden, who leads the Communications and Technology Subcommittee; and NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith, the former Republican senator from Oregon who offered THR a preview of what's expected to be on the conventiongoers' minds.

With the term "fake news" saturating the culture, are broadcasters likely to respond?

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said something recently that I think really rings true. He was at an NAB event and said that at a time when cable news is so polarizing and partisan, he appreciates local broadcast TV and radio now more than ever because our stations just give people the facts. Now, Chuck Schumer and I did not agree on policy issues very often when I served in the Senate, but he is spot-on about local broadcasting. Local broadcasters report the news fairly, without fear or favor, and without the overheated rhetoric that you get on social media or on cable shout shows.

Do Facebook's current troubles offer any challenges or opportunities for broadcasters?

Certainly people have a greater understanding they can't believe everything they see on social media. I think that will make them turn back to local broadcasters as a trusted news source. There is also a growing skepticism from advertisers about their return on investment from digital advertising. We're hearing stories of fraudulent ad recording, ads appearing on inappropriate websites and consumers simply ignoring digital ads. Advertisers are getting fed up. Procter & Gamble pulled most of its ads from digital in the past year and returned a lot of its ad dollars to broadcast. There's a huge opportunity for broadcasters to attract companies back to our airwaves. With broadcasting, advertisers know where their spots appear and that they will be appropriate for their audiences.

Now that the FCC has approved a new broadcast standard called ATSC 3.0, which of its capabilities are broadcasters likely to adopt?

The new standard gives a lot of flexibility to TV stations about what types of services they want to offer. Enhanced picture and audio quality and the ability to offer more HD streams will improve programming options. Datacasting, interactive advertising and mobile TV are also features available through the standard. I really believe that Next Gen TV will be a game-changer for broadcast TV. The public safety features of Next Gen TV are going to save countless lives. Imagine a family in Oklahoma's "tornado alley" being asleep in the home at 3 in the morning. A tornado is approaching, and a Next Gen TV set will wake them up, show them the path of the tornado and provide advice on the proper evacuation route. That's just one of the capabilities of Next Gen TV. We expect to see the first consumer products in the U.S. by late 2019.

Many consumers have just completed updating to UHD TVs. How much demand will there be for the new offerings?

I hope consumers take advantage of the innovations of Next Gen TV, but that is their choice. We asked the FCC to make the transition to the new standard voluntary, and that applies to consumers as well as broadcasters. I believe there's a Field of Dreams element to Next Gen: "If you build it, they will come." If broadcasters use the standard to offer innovative, attractive features that enhance viewers' experience, they will show up.

[Editors Note: The preceding interview was conducted before the Deadspin montage of Sinclair anchors across the country reading a script went viral. When Smith was asked in a follow-up query to comment, an NAB rep declined on his behalf.]

LOTS TO TALK ABOUT 

From women's issues to technological breakthroughs to life on Mars, no topic is off-limits at NAB. 

Opening Keynote 
Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts will be presented with the NAB Distinguished Service Award on April 9.

Diversity and Inclusion 
Women will take center stage at the "Future of Cinema" conference session, which will feature Pixar's Britta Wilson (left) and Cynthia Slavens.

The Red Planet
NASA JPL's Robert Hogg will discuss how artificial intelligence is being used with NASA's Curiosity and Opportunity rovers on the surface of Mars.

Creative Masters Series
Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski will speak about his long collaboration with Steven Spielberg and their work on Ready Player One.

We are Broadcasters Celebration 
Several awards will be presented, highlighted by Kristen Bell receiving the NAB Television Chairman's Award.

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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