NAB Show Kicks Off With Heroes, Innovation and Storytelling

The focus is on storytelling at NAB Show, and its Opening Session did not disappoint, from stories about the power of broadcasting to the recollections of a Hollywood star about a magic trick he did on TV as a 10-year-old.

From the outset, it was clear that this year’s show will stay true to its mission of exploring the power of storytelling — how sincere exchanges lead to greater connections with the audience, and how the cutting-edge technology on display here is revolutionizing modern storytelling.

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith asked attendees to remember broadcasting’s greatest power: Its commitment to the community. “This vital lifeline is the electronic thread that keeps every community together,” he said. “The story of broadcasting is the story of everyday heroes.”

Its role is, if anything, more important today. “When people can access virtually everything in any way, broadcasting’s role is even more critical as people search for a more trusted source of news,” he said. “What makes us so different from competitors is our connection to local communities.”

Smith said it is passion for storytelling that brings together broadcasters, content creators and distributors. “This week you will see an astounding array of exhibits that tell the innovative story of the media and entertainment industries,” he said, including advances in AI, cloud computing, next-generation wireless, esports and connected cars.

The NAB is excited to tell the story of Next-Gen TV, also known as ATSC 3.0. He described it as a convergence of over-the-air and over-the-top that enables stations to send programming not only to new TVs but to next-gen enabled tablets and phones and without using cellular data. Benefits include ultra-high definition video, immersive sound, interactive applications and mobility.

Holding aloft a white Next-Gen TV attachment connected to a mobile phone, Smith said the device eventually will allow users to watch broadcast programming anywhere on such devices. “While this attachment is great, we want a chip built into the phone,” he said to applause. “We may be on the cusp of a new era of manufacturing that should and could include broadcast reception in devices. But to date, manufacturers, Apple being one, refuse to enable broadcast chips in their devices.”

Smith said while he doesn’t often agree with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he was intrigued by her recent comments about big tech companies. “She said, ‘They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation,’” Smith recounted. “I wonder if this growing tech power is one of the reasons why this consumer benefit is being held back by the manufacturers.”

Meanwhile NAB’s advocacy efforts in Washington, he said, remain focused on issues that matter most to broadcasters. “That fight includes urging legislators to oppose the reauthorization of narrow satellite legislation that prevents many viewers from receiving their local TV channels; preventing a performance tax that would cripple local radio stations; fighting pay-TV companies’ attempts to dismantle the retransmission consent process; and ensuring fair streaming rates that make simulcasting viable for local stations.”

Alan Alda

Smith then pointed to two heroes of storytelling. TV/stage actor Alan Alda was met with a standing ovation. Alda, whom Smith called “an icon of the American scene,” was honored with the NAB Distinguished Service Award.

Forgoing the prompter, Alda, 83, shared a memory that he said recently made him reflect on the impact broadcasting has had on his life. Listening to comedian Steve Allen on the radio as a 10-year-old “changed my life,” Alda said. “I heard this new comedy that I never heard before. All of this [led] me to what I finally became.” That same year, Alda took a chance at being on television. “TV was brand new, and KTLA didn’t know how to fill the day,” he said.

One of the shows would ask members of the public to come in and offer something entertaining. Despite his youth, Alda, who was interested in magic, showed a trick he’d invented that involved pulling a birthday cake out of a hat. “No idea now how I did it,” he said. Though his career started on the stage, his big success came from television and his celebrated portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce on the long-running TV show “M*A*S*H.”

“We don’t realize the effect that broadcasting has on other aspects of our lives,” he said. The audience laughed during the Q&A portion of a session with Variety Business Editor Cynthia Littleton, as Alda recalled the fan devotion evident during the airing of that final “M*A*S*H” episode, watched by 105.9 million viewers across the United States. At the first commercial, he said, millions of New Yorkers went to the restroom at the same time. “It nearly broke the water works.”

Later Alda worked on the program “Scientific American Frontiers” and recently started the blog Clear+Vivid on communication. “All of this is because that 10-yearold boy was listening to the radio and was inspired by it,” he said.

The NAB also honored veteran journalist Tom Taylor with the NAB Spirit of Broadcasting Award for his lasting contribution to the industry. Taylor, who covered the radio business for 30 years, said he constantly kept in mind the mantra that journalists are here to serve the public.  “Successful stations are those who serve their local markets,” he said.

Gordon Smith also took a moment at the top of the session to honor Bruce Reese, the former head of Hubbard Radio and Bonneville International and past NAB Joint Board Chair, who passed away last week.