The National Association of Broadcasters represents more than 8,000 terrestrial TV and radio broadcasters in the US. It also stages a massive media and entertainment show every year in Las Vegas. This year we spoke to NAB’s CEO and President, Gordon Smith, as he visited the other big broadcasting show, the IBC, about where broadcasting was heading…

Gordon-H-SmithWhy does the NAB go to the IBC?
Broadcasting is a worldwide technology as a distribution platform. And being worldwide, it’s developing at different paces in different places, and it’s fascinating for us to see from the United States perspective, where others are leapfrogging us, and where we can make advances in broadcasting as well.

How has digital migration affected small broadcasters in the US?
I would say entirely for the good, because they’re delivering a better product, nicer picture and they’re able to do more with their 6MHz licence. They can have four channels instead of one. It gives them a chance to do mobile if they want to. And broadcasters are figuring out how to monetise digital content. So other countries that are still waiting to do it – I was part of the US senate when this was implemented, and we set a hard date, we had to educate the public, we had to make sure the converter boxes were available. People’s televisions stayed on, and they liked the change.

The NAB is keen to get radio broadcast capabilities into mobile phones. Why is this important, and what has been the progress with this?
It’s not easy to get Congress to mandate certain technology. And I think the marketplace is doing what the government is slow to do. The marketplace is beginning to adapt radio receivers in cellphones. The cellphone in many respects is the platform of the 21st century. If you’re just relying on cellphones for information, the network’s going to crash, it becomes disabled when you need it most. But if a cellphone had a radio receiver that was enabled, you would have the lifesaving information that you needed.

Is it difficult making a business case to phone manufacturers?
[Radio] is free, so we’ve had to provide to them different revenue streams, whereby they get a percentage when you tag music and buy music online or they get a cut of a coupon, when you get it over the radio and go into a store and get a discount, and the phone company gets part of that action. So those are new revenue streams, but also we admit that when you can get radio for free, as opposed to a stream, which costs you money, terrestrial radio is seen as a threat to cellphones.

Do you think there will be a shift in emphasis for broadcasters towards content creation?
The key to continued broadcast success is two things. First is technological – the architecture of a broadcast signal is so efficient when it comes to video: one to everyone. That’s irreplaceable. But to reinforce the value of the broadcast signal, having the very best content keeps people’s eyeballs on broadcast and not alternative providers. When you look at the American viewer, the vast majority of what they watch is broadcasting content, not cable or satellite content – because it’s the best quality. So our technology is durable and valuable, and our content – if it remains the highest quality, will have the highest viewership, and therefore the highest profitability. Content is expensive but content is king. There’s lots of choice, and people will still choose quality over quantity.

So how will this play out, what will broadcasters make more of, for instance?
In the United States the focus on localism becomes an important anchor for individual viewers to tie them to their city and their community. But what drives the highest number of viewers is really good entertainment and sports. And amazingly the weather is a very popular thing to check in with. I’m asked by regulators or government officials: “Well don’t people want  to watch television when they want to watch it?” Yes, but they also want to watch a lot of things live. So the future is for those who can provide both, who have flexibility in their content offering, but can cover large live events, like sport or emergencies.