1/15/2012 11:11 AM
Tom Butts is the Editor in Chief of TV Technology.
While doing some research for this editorial, I went back to my year in review from 2010 and was a bit surprised to see how many of the same issues we were dealing with 12 months ago are still with us. And how little has changed.
Back then, I said that 2011 was shaping up to be an "uncertain, but pivotal year." The outcome of issues such as the adoption of 3DTV, Mobile DTV and the FCC's attempts to obtain spectrum from broadcasters were all up for grabs.
A year later, the jury is still out on whether 3DTV or Mobile DTV will succeed. Consumer response to 3DTV still lags way behind marketers' expectations amid the dearth of available programming (although a growing number of sets do support the format). And while more than 100 broadcasters deployed Mobile DTV in 2011, the availability of consumer devices, including attempts to integrate the service in cellphones and tablets is disappointing, to say the least, (although that could change at next week's International CES Show).
As the year ended, however, broadcasters saw some closure on the FCC's National Broadband Plan and our industry's role in it. As this issue goes to press, the legislation to incorporate procedures and delegate funds is tied up in end-of-the-year budget negotiations and a threatened government shutdown (which was averted at the 11th hour).
Overall, though, if you start with the assumption that the FCC was going to institute some plan— regardless of whether broadcasters were part of it—most in the broadcast community can breathe a sigh of relief over the results. As we reported in the last issue, the proposed legislation in the "Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011" would make any spectrum give-backs voluntary. In addition, the FCC would not be allowed to move UHF stations to VHF without the stations' consent and the commission would be required to "make all reasonable efforts" to preserve the coverage area and population served by each station as of the date of the Act's passage. Relocation costs would be covered from a special fund (tentatively set at $3 billion, although certain Democrats advocate $1 billion). Stations can opt out of having their relocation costs reimbursed and instead obtain a waiver from the FCC to allow flexible use of their spectrum, so long as the licensee provides at least one broadcast TV program stream at no charge to the public.
Kudos to NAB and its Washington lobby for obtaining these conditions. Until now, the biggest concern wasn't so much that the FCC was favoring broadband over broadcast in terms of spectrum availability, but rather the uncertainty in which such a scenario would proceed. In that sense, broadcasters "mostly got what they wanted," said Robert Schill OF Counsel with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that specializes in telecommunications.
"Having some level of protection written into the legislation giving some guidance to the FCC about what the structure would be was very helpful," Schill added. "There's still questions about what the auctions themselves will turn out to be and how those are structured will help determine who actually participates. But in terms of what the bill looks like, I think most of the members of the broadcast community were pretty happy with where the bill is."
So what should we expect in 2012? Apart from the dominance of politics and Olympics, expect some finality in the FCC's National Broadband Plan as Chairman Genachowski attempts to wrap things up in anticipation of an uncertain political future beyond November. Mobile DTV will be formally "launched" to the public and 3DTV will most likely continue to disappoint retailers. Broadcasters will be busy installing the boxes and technology to improve EAS capabilities. And an expanded interest in "second screen" technology, tying Web surfing, social media and television programming will heat up.
Oh, and those car commercials will have to be quieter. Good luck on that.