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May 10, 2011
Dennis Wharton
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Gordon Smith Keynote Address at ATSC Annual Meeting

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith presented the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) this morning. Below is a transcript of his prepared remarks.


"It's a pleasure to be here this morning to talk to you. I admit that this is not the typical audience that I usually address - but I am, indeed, very honored to join you today. Just be sure to save the tough questions for my staff.

"Now, while I marvel at the technology of broadcasting, I don't claim to understand it intimately as many of you do. But what I do understand is politics, business and the role that technology plays in the intersection of both. The interplay of those three elements will have a strong impact on determining the future of television broadcasting. Today, I'd like to talk to you about that future, because I believe the role of ATSC is pivotal for ensuring a vibrant future for television broadcasting. First, I applaud ATSC's work to bring together the separate industries that play a role in providing television broadcast service. I believe we can get more done by working together than by working independently, or in the worst case, working against each other.

"Though ATSC's work centers on over-the-air broadcasting, its membership goes well beyond just networks and local stations. Broadcasting can only evolve to more and better services by collaboration among all the stakeholders -- television set manufacturers, chip companies, satellite, cable, software developers, professional equipment manufacturers, and of course, broadcasters. And all these stakeholders are members of ATSC. So it's easy to conclude that this is an important forum for moving broadcast television forward.

"Second, broadcasting as a mass medium depends on mass market deployment, and must be a universal and ubiquitous service. The TV you buy at retail must be able to get all, not some, of the broadcast channels -- that's universality. And it should be able to receive broadcast service anywhere in the country -- that's ubiquitous service. A lot of people in the stakeholder industries have to agree to make the ubiquity and universality of television work. That means services really need to be based on mutually agreed upon technical standards as a bedrock principle of any business plan for a successful broadcast service.

"As a standards setting organization, that is a heavy responsibility for ATSC. As the organization that documented the original digital television standard back in the early and mid-1990s, you've got a long track record. And the recent mobile DTV standard work is an example of ATSC's continuing strong work product. The broadcast industry is very excited about launching mobile DTV service this year - it will be a major new offering from broadcasters - and an excellent example of how we're innovating and using our spectrum resources efficiently for the public good. NAB supports you in your mission of creating technical standards for new services such as mobile DTV.

"We are fast moving past the age of linear television-only, though, into a new world that is on-demand, interactive, Internet-enabled and three-dimensional, with a public that has an insatiable need for more high quality content. So, finding a way for broadcasters to take part in that new world isn't optional, it's a necessity in order to stay competitive with other media in this complex and unpredictable digital world.

"ATSC is looking at "The Road Ahead," as this afternoon's session is named. The subjects of 3D, ATSC 2.0 and Next Generation Broadcast Television are part of that discussion and are vital ingredients of broadcasting's future.

"3D is already in the marketplace in satellite, cable and Blu-Ray versions. It's important to explore the possibilities for 3D broadcasting. ATSC's efforts in this area are much needed to make opportunities available for broadcasters in 3D. Until those opportunities are available, stations aren't likely to seriously analyze them or enter the 3D business in a significant way.

"My understanding of ATSC 2.0 is that it will have things like more efficient compression and the important ability to tie in services that are similar to Internet content or pulling content directly from the Internet itself. We have been talking a lot about broadband and broadcast convergence in the current spectrum debate. The features of ATSC 2.0 sound consistent with that vision of broadcast and broadband being complementary, and maybe even having synergy with each other. So I urge you to move forward rapidly with this program and ensure the receiver manufacturers are committed to making products, as well as broadcasters supplying services.

"The technology in the ATSC DTV Standard is more than 15 years old - technology keeps evolving and a transmission system designed with today's technology could do a lot more - I get that. Understanding how much more could actually be done is important, so that we can make a judgment as to whether it's ultimately worth it to migrate to a new system.

"ATSC's Next Generation Television Broadcasting effort will help make the great unknown knowable. So, with a long term view, this is a great goal. Looking near term though, we just completed one transition, from analog to digital, and though successful, it presented some challenges. Any new system will need to have a companion transition plan that takes broadcasters, manufacturers and especially consumers into account so that they can benefit from the new system in a manageable way. I know that's not the issue right now, but if a move to a next generation system is eventually seriously contemplated, the transition plan will be a make-or-break issue. I look forward to hearing more about that as the discussion continues.

"We just finished another successful NAB Show last month in Las Vegas. I'm sure many of you were there. It was a great show, with increased attendance, enthusiasm and equipment buying - all the right indicators are looking up. The NAB Show is of course the mecca for new media technology and there was plenty of it in Las Vegas. I don't need to tell you about the great products, innovation and thought leadership that were present everywhere at the event. I thank you for your support of the show and for attending this important event that highlights innovations in broadcast technology.

"On a more sober note, many of you will recall that we had planned to have a major demonstration of Ultra-HDTV at the NAB Show by collaborating with NHK, and you will be hearing from the head of NHK's research labs, Dr. Kubota, later today. We were of course disappointed that NHK had to cancel this demonstration. But I want to stress to Dr. Kubota, to all of NHK and to all of you, that this was absolutely the right thing to do for a broadcast network, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In such a time of peril, what could possibly be more important for a broadcaster to do than to get back on the air, stay on the air, inform the public and deliver the lifeline service that broadcasters provide? Our hearts go out to the Japanese people, and while we were in Las Vegas, even with all the activities taking place, the plight of Japan was near in our thoughts. We were proud of the service being performed by NHK as we watched the news, and so proud of the profession of broadcasting, an industry that does the right thing for the public when it's needed. So, for Dr. Kubota and NHK, we will have other times to look at your wondrous new technologies - for now, thank you for your lifesaving broadcast service to the public in the hour of Japan's need.

"From my point of view at the NAB Show, there was a lot of continuing talk about spectrum - those that have it, those that want it and those that regulate it. These days, a lot of controversy revolves around the word "voluntary" when it comes to broadcasters giving up spectrum. At the core, we want to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily. And for those that choose not to give up spectrum, we want them held harmless and not disadvantaged by their choice to stay in the business of broadcasting.

"I addressed this issue in my keynote speech during the show, saying "If a station simply can't make it and volunteers to sell its spectrum, that's fine - as long as it doesn't harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future. The problem is that what is voluntary for the former could become involuntary for the latter. It concerns us that the FCC could forcibly relocate broadcasters, crowd channels closer together, reduce their coverage, destroy innovation for viewers, increase interference or otherwise degrade their signals.

"This would endanger our digital future. So, what we're saying to the government is keep voluntary, voluntary. Broadcasters have a unique identity. We are important voices in our local communities. We live where we broadcast, and we reflect the values of those communities, large and small across the country."

"This debate about spectrum brings up the issue of change and the challenge of continued relevance. We're all for change - change is a part of life and can open the door to many opportunities. Broadcasting is continually changing - from black and white to color, from analog to digital, and now to providing a whole range of new digital services. As Secretary of Veteran Affairs General Eric Shinseki said: "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." Broadcasters get that.

"But change can't happen, and we can't serve our audiences, if we don't have sufficient spectrum. It's the necessary ingredient in the over-the-air part of free, over-the-air television. So we'll continue to fight to ensure that broadcasters have the spectrum they need and innovations in broadcast services, like the ones ATSC is spearheading, can flourish in consumer homes well into the future.

"Thank you for having me here this morning. We thank ATSC for all the work it's doing to move broadcast television forward and to support innovation in the television industry. I look forward to the continued success of ATSC and a bright future for television broadcasting."

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The National Association of Broadcasters is the premier advocacy association for America's broadcasters. NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. Learn more at


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