A plan to seek funding from the consumer electronics industry for a new digital broadcasting laboratory has seriously undermined the integrity of the effort.
That was the assessment last week from Nat Ostroff, VP of new technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“Basically, NAB [the National Association of Broadcasters] and the MSTV [Association for Maximum Service Television] become CEA’s [the Consumer Electronics Association’s] whores,” Mr. Ostroff said.
Under the plan at issue, NAB recently gave tentative approval to donating $2 million a year for the next three years for the initiative.
The significant hitch: NAB conditioned its largess on the consumer electronics industry matching its contribution.
Among the top goals of the lab is to ensure that digital TV sets are capable of adequately receiving DTV signals.
But according to Mr. Ostroff, the NAB and MSTV’s funding request has compromised the lab’s ability to achieve its mission because consumer electronics manufacturers and broadcasters don’t always share a common interest.
“It’s a can of worms and it smells bad,” Mr. Ostroff said. “It’s a terrible conflict of interest.”
Mr. Ostroff blamed the alleged conflict for the fact that NAB and MSTV have yet to voice support for Sinclair’s request that the Federal Communications Commission beef up its DTV tuner rules to ensure that broadcasters can get their digital TV signals to consumers over the air.
Under FCC regulations, consumer electronics manufacturers are supposed to start including DTV tuners in sets beginning in July 2004.
The catch for broadcasters is that the FCC said only that the tuners must be capable of “adequately” receiving DTV, without setting a standard on what “adequate” means.
That, according to Sinclair, means that the DTV tuners installed may be incapable of indoor reception and other minimum capabilities that consumers expect from their TV sets-and the consumer electronics industry is already fighting the DTV tuner requirements.
In addition, Mr. Ostroff said that NAB and MSTV have not endorsed Sinclair’s petition “because they haven’t gotten their $2 million a year from CEA yet.”
David Donovan, MSTV president, said his group is still studying Sinclair’s petition, which was filed at the agency in early November.
“I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” Mr. Donovan said of Mr. Ostroff’s characterization of MSTV’s moral character.
NAB declined comment.
However, one well-placed source said some in the broadcast industry would prefer to see whether voluntary DTV tuner standards can be worked out without an FCC rule.
Mr. Ostroff said that by supporting Sinclair’s petition, broadcasters would have more leverage in any discussions with CEA.
“There’s nothing like having a little clout when you’re doing something voluntary,” Mr. Ostroff said. “CEA has all the leverage now because NAB won’t pony up all the money for the broadcast labs.”
Scuttlebutt had it that NAB is reluctant to support Sinclair because Sinclair is not an NAB member.
“That is so petty, ” Mr. Ostroff said. “That is so much like NAB.”
A CEA spokeswoman said the association had yet to decide how to respond to MSTV’s funding request.
Sinclair’s petition, meanwhile, won the support of the San Francisco-based engineering firm Hammett & Edison.
“Sinclair is entirely correct,” the firm said in a filing at the FCC. “The commission must reconsider its decision not to adopt minimum standards for DTV receivers.”
In a bizarre regulatory twist, the FCC officially requested public comment on Sinclair’s petition last Wednesday.
But on Thursday the FCC, without explaining why, just as officially withdrew its request.
“The petition … should not have been given public notice,” the FCC said.