You may have seen the television ad that features a monstrous tornado bearing down on a community with a voice-over that implies local television will soon be a thing of the past.
It is a fear campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters implying the nation’s local television stations are the target of congressional busybodies. The ads encourage viewers to contact members of Congress to make certain free, local television won’t be taken away.
The NAB has years of experience in marketing and persuasion, and the ad is designed in a way to convince viewers the loss of their local TV station is just as imminent as the destruction about to be unleashed by the looming tornado. In fact, the proposal is to allow the voluntary auction of extra television airwaves to afford their usage by wireless companies.
Don Hicks is president of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, and says local television stations cannot compete at auction because of finances. “An organization would have to have billions of dollars in order to buy this and most TV stations are really small businesses.”
In truth, very few of the nation’s television stations are small businesses and most are owned by huge media conglomerates. While local stations may cover news events and air commercials from retailers in the communities, revenues contribute to the bottom line of the parent firm. There are few television stations in the US that would bid independently for wireless-designated bands at auction, even if such forced re-allocations came to pass. The bidding would be done by station-owning media giants – but no one is proposing forced sales of band spectrum.
No one is trying to put local television out of business.
The proposal addressed in the NAB fear campaign is one that would allow voluntary auction of unused or underused “airwaves” – as they have been termed, by television licensees who would benefit financially from the sale of the asset.
The Federal Communication Commission says the NAB study loses sight of the “voluntary” nature of an incentive auction, where willing sellers and buyers would participate.
“While ‘NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions,’ they say their ‘concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary,” the FCC responded, in a prepared statement. “That concern is unfounded. The Commission has made clear that we contemplate only voluntary contributions of spectrum by broadcasters. We have not proposed to recapture a prefixed amount of spectrum by whatever means necessary, but rather offer individual broadcasters the opportunity to receive a capital infusion by contributing some – or all – of their spectrum to auction.”
In other words, only those stations wanting to sell off “airwaves” they own would be affected. All others would retain their entire spectrum.
The wireless revolution – the usage of those airwaves to accommodate cell phones, computer tablets, and wireless computer connections – continues as a threat to traditional broadcasters. Streaming videos, internet news coverage, and social media all cut into the continued viability of the television media, which has changed nothing in regard to their business model despite rampant changes in technology and usage.
The FCC response addresses the fact that the growing demand for wireless bandwidth requires additional resources.
“Our proposal will not shut down hundreds of stations,” says the FCC statement, “it will open up massive innovation and investment. It has twin benefits: it will help broadcasters interested in participating and unleash much needed spectrum — a key ingredient to meeting the demands of the mobile revolution.”
The FCC response calls out the NAB ad as a scare tactic and says the broadcasting group would better serve the community with a cooperative approach.
The vague nature and fear-provoking tone of the ad campaign will confuse enough viewers to join the discussion, but they will not likely include the demographic most likely to benefit from a reallocation of underused portions of the broadcasting band spectrum.