tv The Communicators The Future of Broadcast Television CSPAN August 3, 2019 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT
created by cable in 1979. c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. >> former senator gordon smith is the longtime president and ceo of the national association of broadcasters. he is our guest this week on "the communicators." before we get started looking at some of the issues that the nab is facing, how many people in this day of netflix and hulu and amazon are actually watching broadcast tv? gordon: an awful lot. in fact, the interesting thing is when you go to satellite paid tv subscriptions, one of the things people insist on his -- insist on is having local news, weather, sports, emergency information. it is the lifeline.
natural or human disasters, it lets people know what is coming, how to find shelter, how to get rescue and get some recovery. the broadcasters, radio or television, is a public servant to be the first informer. it is unique in our country where so many of our communities have their own local television stations, and they are on the job at the peril of their own lives when a storm is coming. that is a franchise in all of telecommunications that broadcasting owns and operates. we are alone doing that given the peril of newspapers now. people tune in all the time to get the weather, the traffic, what happened in the city, what did my team do? those are the things we are on the case, doing.
lamentably with all of the digital age and challenge of newspapers, we are there still as the answer to what is happening to journalism. we are still doing the reporting, we are still investigating, still holding people accountable. and so i think the future for broadcasting is not just one that we will survive, we will thrive because the people need what we do, even though they sometimes take for granted that we are going to be there. we occupy what i would describe as an irreplaceable, indispensable niche in communications. host: some of the satellite companies do not necessarily agree. gordon: it is true they would rather have our expensive and valuable and most-watched content -- they would like that for free. the truth is, when they want to sell a subscription for direct tv or cable channels, you're not
going to be able to sell that subscription long if you do not have a local component that broadcasters alone provide. when they take our content, expensive and valuable as it is, and resell it, that is when we are entitled under copyright and contract to be able to have recourse to its value. it is unfortunate, but whenever the congress seems to be paying attention to these issues, some of our friends at directv and cable, they will manufacture a lot of service interruptions, as we call it. they do not want to pay for as much as our product is worth. negotiations, i am not in them. i am the association head. what is in play is viewership and comparables.
when broadcast journalism have ratings like this, and they are compensated like this, and when they, with their own programming , compensate themselves, one pocket to the other, this much for viewership like this, i am saying there is room to negotiate for value. that is what happens in these retransmission consent contest negotiations. i do think it is imperative that the public officials respect that this is a market in flux. when i was a u.s. senator and there was occasionally a labor dispute, i would have management come in and say, can you help us with this? and labor, can you put the thumb on the scale back? i recognize both sides, as they do between tv and pay-tv, both sides have an economic interest
in coming up with a deal, and the responsible thing for me to do as a public official was to stand back and not put my thumb on the scale, because then i am allowing the marketplace to work and find prices that reflect values of the content, and that is what is happening. host: before we go further, let's bring paul kirby into this conversation. paul: thank you. host: you gave a speech recently that the pay-tv folks are trying to get things in legislation coming up, that is not fair. and that you should allow markets to work in these agreements. do you want to elaborate on that? paul: back in the late 1980's, early 1990's there was a bill passed designed to be temporary to help the satellite industry
compete with what was then cable monopolies. it allowed this current reauthorization, called stella sometimes, it allowed for technological reasons satellite companies to bring in distant signals into local markets. all the technical impediments have been overcome, but still at&t in 12 of the 210 markets, they do not deal with local tv providers. for example, bowling green, kentucky gets news from new york city when it is on directv. i do not suppose my friend chuck schumer minds the people in kentucky getting news about him, but i suspect mitch mcconnell does. we are saying there is no technical impediment. there is a value to the local, but a particular value to the
viewers, the customer to want to see the local news and not new york city. there is literally a case where a tornado coming into oklahoma, and they are watching a dumpster fire in l.a. that defeats the purpose of having local journalism, local stations that are on these other platforms because they need that information. it is not fair to them that this law, which even the copyright office now says should sunset. it is a subsidy to at&t, directv, it has a market cap of $250 billion. they should be dealing with a local broadcaster. we are simply saying the time has come that this temporary legislation as intended in the beginning that it should sunset, that we should allow it to
sunset. it no longer represents good public policy. host: let me ask you about another proceeding that has got a lot of attention. there is discussion the sec is probably going to repurpose some of that spectrum. the satellite incumbents have an alliance and they said, how about 200 megahertz of the 500. another group said we can get 370 megahertz. more than 120 million americans rely on that band to distribute programming, and audio, whether we are talking about over the air or via cable. in the past, as long as we are protected, we are protect the, , we have nottected gotten into the weeds about how much spectrum should be
repurposed and how it would be repurposed. cannot move to fiber? cannot move to fiber? -- can that move to fiber? paul: every one of our viewers have had their cable cut back at some point. when you have the super bowl going on or a presidential debate or a natural emergency coming on, you do not want something to interrupt that transmission. fiber can be redundancy but not a replacement. so our viewers understand what we are talking about, this high band spectrum is literally what networks of radio and television use to transmit to local broadcasters their programming, and what we are simply saying, not taking a position on any particular thing, there are things we must oppose for the sake of the television and radio viewer and listener.
that is anything that would replace the spectrum or interfere with transmission in a way that is disruptive. we know our friends in the telephone business, they want to have more 5g. this is a spectrum valuable for that new technology. it should never this place -- uniquelywhat we have as americans which is broadcast television over the air, free if you want to put up a digital antenna, best picture you can get through that method. if you want to pay for it through a tv company or satellite-radio company, you can do that. that is freedom, but our stuff has a value, and it is important to remember that broadcast television and radio, there are
two revenue streams. there is advertising, and that is greatly fractured in the digital age. that has gone down. retransmission consent is the essential back fill we have needed to preserve this unique feature of the united states of america, which is local television in local markets. that is something the american people count on, and what nab is fighting to preserve, even while trying to be cooperative for the demand for 5g. host: you do not have a position on how much spectrum can be reallocated by protecting broadcasters, you are just saying we must protect them? gordon: exactly, no interference or reliance on fiber as a replacement. it can be a redundancy, that is fine. we have seen too many instances
where even in a presidential there was a disruption because of fiber. we cannot afford to take that chance because human life could be literally in the balance. host: you talked about this, repacking tv channels for the incentive option. some channels are going to wireless companies that bid on them in an auction. we are in the process of repackaging channels. the ones involved will move to other parts of the spectrum. they are ahead of schedule. you and others have said we need to make sure folks are made whole, and if there is a problem, they are not forced to do things beyond their control. gordon: i want to take my hat off in appreciation to the fcc, they have been good to their promise from the beginning that during this repack they would be sensitive to the weather, conditions beyond the control of
anyone to get ahead of. they have allowed enough flex ability that we are up to the fourth stage of the repack, it is going well. it is also true a 2000 foot tower, and inclement weather, sadly there have been fatalities during this repack. there is goodwill between broadcasters, the sec, the tower workers, and the phone companies who are trying to make sure this happens on time, and we all have that same incentive to get this in the rearview mirror. it is also necessary as you get into these later stages, particularly during the winter months, you have to be attentive to the weather and dangerous conditions for the tower crew workers.
host: t-mobile which was the largest bidder at the auction , they made investments to help the process along. low-power tv stations and -- in antenna manufacturers, how helpful has that been? gordon: it takes all of us working, and we try to work with them. we appreciate their ideas and where we can find common ground to meet with them and do what they are asking. we try to do that. in the and, the focus -- in the end, the focus cannot be taken off the customer, the american citizen. the focus cannot be taken off the safety of the tower worker. we do not want anybody to lose access to the television station. host: you talked about the importance of localism when it comes to broadcasters. what about ownership rules for
local television stations? is it time to update them? gordon: it is. i would make note for your viewers that this is not our fathers' era of broadcasting. when we went to the digital transition, we have gone from now people arend drinking information and entertainment from a fire hydrant because it is flowing. you can get it so many places, and digital advertising has become a significant player taking dollars from what supports local broadcasting. we just simply are up against unregulated behemoth companies,
and you heard the acronym that stands for facebook, google, netflix, amazon -- i got them in the wrong order. they have no regulations, there is nothing impeding their size. that is what we are competing against. facebook is investing in local content because so many newspapers have been destroyed. we are still there, but we are trying to hang on in the face of these companies which are almost approaching the size of the nobert -- robber barre companies of teddy roosevelt. you have them now, facebook talking about coming out with their own currencies. while broadcasters are kept small by regulation, we are competing with what are developing as corporate nationstates almost, and i think
-- i do not agree with elizabeth warren on everything -- but she made a good point in a recent speech. she said this is becoming something that congress should seriously look at. when i was on the senate commerce committee, the tech companies could do no wrong. they always came in with new gadgets and we were thrilled with it. but there comes a point when a private interest gets so large that it has a public impact that begins to run counter to the public interest. i think we have reached that point. i do not know whether congress is capable of dealing with it, but i am pleased many in both parties are saying it is time to put guardrails up. what we say is if you are going to treat us in this way that we have been treated since the beginning, and kept in a certain
box, recognize what our competition is. it is not with each other, it is with all of these other entrants to the digital age. treat us the same or treat us fairly, or deal with them the way you deal with us. in the end, these behemoths are coming to a point at which it is no longer in the public interest because they buy up competition, they bury competition, and they stifle innovation and investment. and they do that because that is in their interest. i do not criticize them for pursuing their self-interest, but in the end there is a public interest, too. that is what is in the crosshairs of this debate. it is time for congress to wake up to it. host: do you consider facebook, twitter, other social media
companies, some of the telcos to be media companies? gordon: absolutely they are media companies, and they compete for the advertising dollar which is the cornerstone of how you pay for expensive content like showing the super bowl, the world series, presidential debates and all of the costs that go into providing a local studio. yeah, they are media companies. host: you mentioned congress, the department of justice looks like they will look at antitrust grounds against big tech. do you welcome that? gordon: i do. i want to thank the justice department who recently -- they are recognizing the way in which they view broadcasting belongs in the "i love lucy" era. and now they have roundtable discussions to say, what is the world really in which we consider broadcasting? how is it impacting others now?
the fcc recognized that. we hope the justice department soon will. congress should begin to look not to the tech industry just as we have in the past, but focus more on the public interest. and again, we are the only ones who do the local besides the newspapers that remain. and they are dwindling fast. those companies do not do local. they count on us, and they do not want to pay for what we do, and they do not want the regulatory burdens that overlay what we do. but they are doing much of what we do. we are saying the world has changed. there has been an earthquake in telecommunications, so all policymakers look at the new landscape, it is very different.
host: it is sounding like you do not like "i love lucy." gordon: no, i love "i love lucy." [laughter] sharedenator, when you this viewpoint with your former republican colleagues, what is their reception? gordon: for a long time, big tech has been supportive of the democratic side of the aisle, a little to the republican side. now i think what is going on today, the mueller hearing, they are recognizing on the democratic side maybe some of this is not in the public interest. and on the republican side, they still hold too many of the principles of teddy roosevelt who broke up the big trusts in his time. it is at a point you become so big, even the point of developing your own currencies
that congress does need to take a look and do something if they are capable of it in this current, fractured environment because both sides are looking at big tech and saying, maybe it is time the public comes first. host: another proceeding involves tv white spaces. the fcc has opened these up for unlicensed use. microsoft has asked them to modify the rules. microsoft's petition has taken a constructive approach. right now, things are a little more pleasant between the two.
most of the things are true, the fcc should look at these, i want to get a sense, are you willing to support some of these things down the road that the fcc says they want to modify these rules? gordon: we have come to a good place with microsoft. from my standpoint and with a background in government, they seem to start with a public relations campaign before a legislative policy campaign. i think they got that figured out. our opposition in the beginning, we cannot let you get into the white space if that produces interference. the real problem is that it was branded as a way to rollout broadband for rural areas. there is no shortage of spectrum in rural areas. so if they want to do that, we have no complaint. what they really want is a valuable urban areas where they can monetize it and sell their equipment. we are saying, let's call it
what it is and focus on the science that governs the spectrum in white spaces, and let's figure out with them as their partner and not opponent how this can be done and how they can be accommodated without creating interference by this great incumbent broadcasting industry that people count on. host: you were not talking about interference in urban areas. gordon: exactly. the money for them is not found areas, it is found in the rural. we are saying let's not call it rural deployment because it is about urban deployment, selling stuff. we are now in a good place in discussing this with them, and talking real science and physics. host: senator smith, the last
great telecom act was 1996, the year you got elected to the senate. as you said, there has been an earthquake in telecommunications. is it time to rewrite, and where do you start and where do you stop? gordon: ted stevens was the chair, and we got close to a good telecom rewrite. of course, they have all of these incumbents who have vested interest in the status quo, yet there is a need in the public interest to reshape the landscape, recognize the earthquake that has taken place. then this issue popped up, net neutrality. we were grappling with what does that mean, how does that translate? then net neutrality became a republican versus democratic issue and took the whole bill down. in the end because congress
cannot settle this issue, it went to the fcc. under the wheeler administration, they did net neutrality, and the chairman went back to the previous -- the internet is still working. everybody has access, nobody is being blocked, i have heard no reports about that. the question is, is this a solution looking for a problem? depending on where you sit, you will answer yes or no. that is an issue that has to get figured out as part of any telecom rewrite, and i do not sense the parties are getting closer on finding common ground. host: gordon smith is president and ceo of the national association of broadcasters. paul kirby is senior editor of telecommunication reports. gentlemen, thanks for being on "the communicators." >> thank you. ♪
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>> monday night, a gun rights debate from dartmouth college in hanover, new hampshire. we will hear from lawyers on both sides of the issue. here is a preview. >> then there is the obvious come a problem of drawing useful comparisons from the late 1700s or mid 1800s to today, especially with response to a rapidly changing technology like guns. trying to identify the lineal descendents of guns from the or when0s to today, you'll descendents of gun regulations, that is difficult to do. judges are not historians and guns don't have family trees. ar-15 away is an descendent of a musket?
do you look at muzzle velocity? these are hard questions. i think in practice we will see the judges will answer them, and judge kavanaugh says this, by analogy. there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. it is to find relevant similarities between two things. but that puts a lot of weight on what judges see as relevant similarities. maybe their views look like yours but maybe they don't. maybe their intuitions are the same as yours, maybe they aren't. maybe they are protective of gun rights, maybe they're not. i think there is a reason to be skeptical on a test based on history and tradition that i think will boil down to judicial intuition or analogy. it is always critical to put in context the language people like to pull out of howler -- heller in an e