The National Association of Broadcasters had reason to cheer last week: Attendance at the NAB convention in Las Vegas was 104,427, up from 97,544 last year. According to NAB, international attendance was 23,401, up from 22,320 last year. In addition, 1,276 journalists registered for this year’s event, up from about 1,000 last year. “It’s a reflection of the continued growth in digital technologies and a better economy,” said Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman.
Donaldson Proclaims Broadcast News Doom
Veteran newsman Sam Donaldson created a major buzz with his surprise proclamation that broadcast network news is dead. “I say to network news departments: Find something new to do,” Mr. Donaldson said during a breakfast session. According to Mr. Donaldson’s reasoning, broadcast network news audiences have declined precipitously, while the average age of their viewers has skyrocketed-to 60, he said-largely due to competition from 24-hour cable news networks and other news options for viewers. The anchor monsters are through, he said, referring to the power the Big 3 TV network news anchors once held over the nation’s public opinion. Afterward, former ABC newsman Jeff Greenfield told reporters he wouldn’t predict a sudden death for the networks. It’s going to be like congestive heart failure, Mr. Greenfield said. Nonetheless, he said that even if the combined Big 3’s network share of the evening news audience plummets to 40 percent, they are still likely to have a far bigger share than any of their cable rivals.
Burns Predicts Senate Battle for Digital Bill
A controversial proposal to require broadcasters to switch to digital TV by Dec. 31, 2006, will face opposition in the Senate, even assuming it’s approved in the House. “I’ve got to protect my people in the state of Montana, because there are going to be a lot of televisions turned off,” Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said at an NAB session. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who has been leading the charge for legislation forcing broadcasters to make the switch, insisted that he still has the votes for a measure that he intends to introduce within the next several weeks. But other congressmen at the same convention session expressed qualms about Rep. Barton’s timetable. “If they [voters] turn on their TV sets and they get a blank picture, our political careers will be a blank picture,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. By the end of the session, Rep. Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he might be willing to postpone the transition date in his bill but for less than a year. During the same panel, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the House bill should allow cable operators to downconvert broadcast digital signals to analog at system headends to reduce the number of analog-only sets that would need digital-to-analog converters after the transition.
Cable Indecency Controls Draw Mixed Reviews
A National Association of Broadcasters campaign to extend indecency regulation to cable played to decidedly mixed reviews in the hallways at the NAB convention, raising some doubts about the initiative’s prospects. Among those who said they support the NAB’s position were Mark Mays, president and CEO of Clear Channel Communications, and Gary Chapman, chairman, president and CEO of LIN Television. “It’s simply saying there should be a level playing field here,” said Mr. Chapman. But Fox Networks Group President and CEO Tony Vinciquerra, Stanley Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, and Jeff Smulyan, CEO of Emmis Communications, all raised concerns about the concept. “I’m a First Amendment believer,” Mr. Hubbard said. “I don’t think that just because broadcasting is censored, cable should be. I don’t think any of us should be.” Mr. Vinciquerra said, “It’s a First Amendment issue, and there should be no indecency regulation for anybody.” Added Mr. Smulyan: “It’s frustrating not to have a level playing field. But I worry, does that mean we’re going to impose First Amendment restrictions on other people? That scares me.”
Martin’s No-Show Due to Father’s Death
A last-minute decision by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to bail out of a commitment to speak at the convention left NAB staffers scrambling for a replacement. The FCC chairman’s appearance normally is one of the major highlights of the convention. But sources said Mr. Martin changed his plans due to the recent death of his father. His Tuesday morning slot was filled with a panel that included veteran journalists Sam Donaldson, Jeff Greenfield and Charles Osgood.
‘Married by America’ Not Actionable?
Fox Networks Group President and CEO Tony Vinciquerra told broadcasters last Tuesday that the episode of the network’s “Married by America” that generated a record Federal Communications Commission fine for the company’s stations and affiliates was a mistake but was not in violation of FCC indecency regulations. “That was not our finest moment in television,” Mr. Vinciquerra said during a session. “It was not something we were proud of. But it was not an actionable scene.”
Fritts’ Colorful Farewell
At his final convention as NAB’s president and CEO, Eddie Fritts told broadcasters that in 1982, when he first became the association’s leader, his predecessor said the hardest part of the job had been “keeping all you bastards in the same boat.” Said Mr. Fritts, “Now 23 years later, most of you own your own boats and my biggest problem is keeping you sailing in the same direction. But let’s never forget that when broadcasters are sailing in the same direction we are a powerful armada.” Mr. Fritts has announced plans to retire, pending the board’s hiring of his successor.
House Cool to VNR Labeling
Controversial legislation recently approved by the Senate to require clear labeling of prepackaged news stories produced by the government appears destined for a cool reception in the House. “That may be an idea the House does not follow the Senate on,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told reporters at the convention. “I’m not enamored of that, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “I’m not going to say heck no. But that’s not one of the better ideas to come out of the Senate.”
NAB Wants FCC to Reconsider Decision on Must-Carry
The National Association of Broadcasters plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a decision rejecting an NAB proposal requiring cable operators to carry all of the programming streams on broadcasters’ digital channels, Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, said last week. The FCC rejected the NAB’s request in February on a 4-1 vote. But since that time, Kevin Martin, the sole dissenter in the vote, has been promoted to the agency’s chairmanship. “We’re asking the FCC to reconsider their reconsideration,” Mr. Fritts said. At a wrap-up press conference, Mr. Fritts told reporters that he believes the multicasting issue is apt to be included in legislation on the broadcasting industry’s conversion to digital this year. Also at the press conference, Mr. Fritts said the NAB’s board had hired the executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart to search for his successor. In addition, he said a long-pending effort by NAB to establish voluntary programming guidelines for the industry is unlikely to derail pending indecency legislation. But he also said indecency legislation is likely to be challenged in the courts on First Amendment grounds.