Convergence at NAB2000
broadcasters consider their interactive options as
digital landscape keeps evolving around them.
this year the world television community gathered in Las
Vegas for first annual meeting and show in the new
millennium of the National Association of Broadcasters.
NAB2000, April 8-13, drew a record 113,000 attendees
visiting the stands of 1,400 exhibitors squeezed into the
Las Vegas Convention Center and expanded Sands/Venetian
Convention Center. On display was an industry in
NAB represents the
broadcast networks along with more than 1,100 U.S.
television stations and 5,600 local radio stations.
Despite the recent loss of membership dues from the
National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and NewsCorp's Fox
network, NAB remains the leading television trade
organization in the Americas. Its annual show ranks in
importance with IBC.
If the press of
professionals at NAB was akin to swarming bees, the hive
buzzed around the blossoming digital television business
-- in all its splendid varieties -- cross-pollinating a
bouquet of interactive services, scattering seeds to
sprout future revenues.
Touted as "The
Convergence Marketplace", NAB2000 featured almost 300
experts speaking at seven simultaneous conferences. The
meeting closed with an unprecedented "Super Session"
devoted to enhanced and interactive TV
broadcasters see the success of interactive TV in Europe,
and they want in the game. But for their voices and views
to prevail, their industry first must release its
resistance to digital interactivity. The television trade
has long defined itself by its technology, and "future
shock" does take its toll in courage.
Viacom chair and
CEO Sumner Redstone used his opening keynote to hearten
those afraid terrestrial broadcasting cannot withstand
competition from digital satellite and cable services.
"Broadcasting is not crashing, not dying, not
endangered", he said. "Broadcasting is still as
compelling as ever. In the new media world, I say, the
advantage belongs to the broadcasters."
spoke about the pending merger between Viacom and CBS.
The Columbia Broadcasting System is the commercial TV
network built by William S. Paley, whom he credited with
inventing a viable business of advertising supporting
free broadcasts, the model driving commercial television
for 50 years.
The CBS acquisition
leverages Viacom's world subscription channels, MTV and
Nickelodeon, which may benefit from Columbia's music
catalogue. Viacom also is taking over UPN, the startup
broadcast affiliate network of United Artists-Paramount,
the network initially built for the <i>Star Trek:
For any broadcaster
to compete in the digital age, Redstone advised a
business strategy founded upon terrestrial TV industry's
"unparalleled content, unbeatable brand strength, and
unmatched market share of the world's growing appetite
for information and entertainment".
"My message today
isn't that we need to reinvent ourselves or embark on
radical new strategies", Redstone said. "What we need is
the resolve to fully exploit our unique
examples. The American football championship game, the
Super Bowl, earned more advert revenues in three hours
than the leading dot.com collected all year. Broadcast TV
advertisers can capture in one instant an audience as big
as the entire membership of America Online (AOL), which
is buying Time-Warner. "You want to talk about
advantages? Talk about broadcasters."
"Only by working
together", Redstone said, "can we capitalize on our
advantages and fulfill the promise of our industry in the
transition for broadcasting is inevitable", said keynoter
William Kennard, Chair of the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC), mandated by the Congress to manage the
transition to digital. "Broadcasters have no choice in
the matter. All their competitors are going or have gone
digital. Americans have awakened to the power and
functionality of digital, and they will never go back to
an analogue-only world. Analogue is over. Delay is not an
option. Resistance is futile."
"Convergence is not
just about digital technology", he added, as if in
response to Redstone's speech. "It means finding a new
business model for broadcast television in the digital
age. I get frustrated when I hear people say broadcasters
are stuck with a business model they just will not
change. I become more frustrated when people tell me the
success of digital television lies in government
developing the business model by micro-managing the
"So, the important
questions", he continued, "are how fast it will happen,
and who will be the pioneer like Bill Paley who invents a
new business models for this medium. And what will be the
'killer applications' that will reinvent television for
the age of broadband global Internet?"
is the biggest opportunity for broadcasters in a
generation", Kennard concluded. "So I am understandably
concerned when broadcasters tell us that they are not
interested in having a meaningful debate on the public
interest obligations of broadcasters in the digital age."
A man responsible
for protecting the public interest is Greg Rohde, once a
local broadcaster in North Dakota and now Asst. Secretary
of Commerce for the U.S. National Telecommunications
& Information Administration (NTIA). In his own
keynote talk, he provided a map of current digital
television landscape in the United States:
- More than $350
million has been spent so far by station owners making
the transition to digital TV
- More than 1,500
commercial and public stations have filed DTV
construction permit applications.
- 96 stations are
broadcasting digital TV with full FCC authority today,
and another 23 are operating under temporary or special
- 62 percent of U.S.
households can receive at least one digital TV signal
"While there are constants -- like the unquestionable
value of local news and information, and the need for
that television content to be free and accessible to all
citizens -- the conversion to digital is creating a whole
new perspective for television."
conversion to digital to the Copernican revolution, he
said, "Convergence is reorienting the economic universe.
E-commerce is making access to information and
telecommunication services the center of economic
enthusiasm for e-commerce with a call for rigorous
privacy protection. "People should know what data is
being collected from them, and for what purpose."
Consumers have a right to decide how their private
information is being used, he said, and to determine that
any information collected about them is accurate.
The best way to
avoid government regulation, said the man from the
government, is for the media industry to voluntarily
adopt "solid and understandable privacy policies. This
will build consumer confidence and maximize the freedom
of the Internet."
Comments by these
and other keynoters outlined the core issues facing
terrestrial broadcasters in America and around the world.
Details are revealed by the topics covered in the seven
The centerpiece of
every NAB continues to be the five-day Broadcast
Engineering Conference, produced by and for the Society
of Broadcast Engineers. Held in the LVCC and adjacent
Hilton, sessions focused on the challenges of upgrading
broadcast facilities to digital. Engineers from national
networks to local stations discussed digital conversion
strategies, equipment functions and prices, handy tips
for keeping analogue gear functional as long as possible.
content for the broadband channels spent most of their
time at NAB Multimedia World in the Sands Convention
Center. Attendees could go to a New Media Professionals
Conference or the Internet Technologies &
Applications Conference. For more depth, there was a
pre-show Digital Video Production Workshop. Sessions
covered streaming video, 3D motion graphics, virtual
sets, high-definition and wide-screen production
practices, digital asset management, and integrating
interactive services into the programming stream.
digital content was the focus of the three-day Satellite
& Telecommunications Conference. The assembled
network operators compared cost and performance of
competing transport platforms -- satellite teleports,
fiber, cable, phoneline, and fixed wireless.
competitive edge occupied the attention of broadcast
executives in the four-day Television Management
Conference, and the three-day Radio Management
Conference. Their top priorities are building a stronger
bottom line and a more powerful marketplace presence.
Their biggest problems are helping the public understand
and adopt digital media, then welcome sophisticated
Since laws shape
the structure of commerce, the Business Law and
Television Conference drew top legal minds from diverse
television enterprises to meet with commissioners and
staff from the Federal Communications Commission and
other regulators worldwide. The nexus of discourse was
admission into the digital game and then the rules of
play. Topics included station ownership limits, low-power
broadcasting, equal employment opportunity, and political
In the lower level
of the Sands, next to the registration center, NAB this
year introduced a new section of stands, eTV World,
featuring demonstrations representing the front edge of
digital interactivity. Microsoft's WebTV displayed its
latest set-top box. Tivo and Replay showed their latest
hard-disk personal video recorder. LoadTV showed
full-motion video streaming to the PC. Britain's Two-Way
TV exhibited the new TWIN service, a joint venture with
Interactive Network in the U.S. to deliver real-time,
competitive interactive games and sports channels on
digital TV and the Internet.
industry is being greatly impacted by the convergence of
entertainment and technology", said NAB president Edward
Fritts. "This change translates into new opportunities