Smith Extols Next Gen Tech, Localism, Change, Choice and Principles

Gordon H. Smith

The 2017 NAB Show officially opened Monday with a Zero G backflip by International Space Station astronaut Peggy Whitson, who will appear in a live 4K transmission here on Wednesday. NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith characterized the NASA-Hollywood amalgam as illustrative of “The M.E.T. Effect,” a play on “media, entertainment and technology” and theme of this year’s show.

“Broadcasters have been at the center of this … bringing the content to audiences around the world,” he said.

In his opening keynote, Smith extolled “Next Gen TV,” the public-facing appellation for ATSC 3.0, the emerging broadcast standard that supports personalization, interactivity, 4K, immersive audio and a host of other advanced features including device-activating emergency warnings.

Smith said the technology represents the “seamless convergence” of broadcasting and broadband, and that it will increase the efficiency of the post-auction TV spectrum — an auction after which the vast majority of broadcasters elected to continue broadcasting, despite the challenges.

On the radio front, Smith said broadcasters had worked “tirelessly” to get FM receiver chips into smartphones; the goal is getting more of them activated. He gave shout-outs to carriers that have activated FM chips in Android phones and said NAB continues “urging Apple to provide its customers with this feature.” The organization is also working with automakers to keep radio in dashboards via software for connected cars.

Smith crafted his remarks around the philosophy of an old friend, the late Dr. Stephen Covey, who said there are three constants in life: change, choice and principles.

“The same could be said for broadcasters,” he said. “We face change. We have choices, but we must always be guided by our principles.”

Smith said IP-based technology is driving change in distribution options, but that one thing it would not change is people’s preference for local media. Even amid unprecedented competition for eyeballs, he said, broadcasters originate 90 of the top 100 most-watched TV shows each week, and 268 million people listen to radio on a weekly basis.

Smith characterized this competitive landscape as the springboard for choices, which must be “based on our core principles” of providing community service, local jobs and ad revenues that contribute to the economy. He also said broadcasters must continue “defending our democratic ideals — the right to speak freely without fear of incrimination, and the right of the press to challenge the government and root out corruption in high places, public or private.”

In a separate segment, Rebecca Jarvis of ABC News interviewed Steve Swartz, president and CEO of Hearst. Swartz said that Hearst thrives through diversified holdings but that journalism remained job number one.

“It’s a calling,” he said. “It’s one of the few … endeavors called out in the Constitution.” He challenged media organizations to step back and consider what they’re doing to “make this a better country.”

In terms of the business, Swartz recommended that media operations “look at adjacent businesses that have a little more wind at their back.”

Broadcast veteran Jane Pauley served as master of ceremonies. As co-host of “Today” on NBC, Pauley would go up against Joan Lunden and her “Good Morning America” co-host David Hartman, this year’s recipients of NAB’s Distinguished Service Award. Smith spoke about how “meaningful they were for the Smith family. It seems like I’d known [Hartman] all my life, and I just now met him.”

Hartman conducted more than 12,000 interviews during his career. Lunden, among other accomplishments, became the first female anchor to work through three pregnancies on air.

“I really think it was a new era for working women in the country,” she said.