Rehr urges broadcasters: Don't be a digital doormat

Transition will bring in billions

National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO David Rehr urged the industry to embrace the future of the fast-changing broadcast world as he opened the 2008 NAB Show on Monday in Las Vegas.

"Some are not optimistic about broadcasting's future," Rehr said in his opening keynote. "Some people in this business have been staring so long at the door that's closing, they haven't seen the new door that's opening — the digital door."

On the digital television transition — the NAB's highest TV priority in this critical final year before the analog changeover in February — Rehr said the NAB and the industry are making a billion-dollar commitment to DTV transition education.

The next step, he said, is moving DTV to other devices, including mobile screens.

"On Feb. 17, 2009, as TV's old analog signal ends and we begin our digital future, one door closes … but another opens," he said. "NAB is aggressively moving to get digital TV on cell phones, iPods, TV screens in cars, portable video players, laptop computers and more.

"That's live TV on upward of 345 million devices. … By 2012, only four years away, three years after the transition itself, broadcast television could earn an estimated additional $2 billion a year in revenue from mobile video alone," he added.

But before the industry can take advantage of new revenue opportunities, there is much to be done, and Rehr emphasized that the industry needs to adopt standards and deploy the technology.

"There is an explosion of content out there, and we have to be smart and nimble about how we deliver it to our consumers," he said.

On the subject of radio, Rehr said that "radio's business model is not broken." With that, he offered an overview of an initiative called Radio 2020, designed to reignite the public's passion for radio.

He also addressed the potential of high-definition radio. "There are those who said HD radio would never make it — too expensive, too few stations, too this, too that," he said. "That attitude is changing. Ford, Mercedes, Volvo and BMW are just a few automakers that have made major announcements about offering HD radio in their vehicles. And radio stations are stepping up to offer the programming to support new multicast channels of HD radio. We still have a lot of work to do on this, but we are certainly headed in the right direction."

He also presented highlights of what is occurring in Washington.

On the XM-Sirius merger, he said: "Twelve state attorneys general and more than 80 members of Congress have written the FCC that the XM-Sirius merger is not in the public interest. The Justice Department's notion that the two companies do not compete is simply absurd. If combined, these two companies will control more spectrum than the entire FM dial."

On white space: "Portable, unlicensed devices have malfunctioned three times in FCC laboratory testing," he said. "Now we know (that) if these devices can't work in pristine lab conditions, they won't work in the real world — which means interference on televisions across the country that cannot be traced or stopped."

On localism: "We're working to make sure that the (FCC) does not place unnecessary requirements on broadcasters that would actually hamper stations' efforts to serve their local communities," he said.

On performance tax, Rehr said that "nearly 200 members of Congress are standing with us against a performance tax on local radio."

The NAB opened with a busy agenda, but the lingering impact of the WGA strike and other factors has hurt attendance. Numerous companies said they are participating in NAB but sending fewer delegates this year in response to lost revenue.