Station Execs Bullish; Resolute On Spectrum
The short-term and long-term outlooks for television are strong, both in terms of this year’s ad revenue and, over the long haul, in terms of delivering original and acquired TV content over the air to traditional TV sets and mobile devices, according to station executives on a NATPE Executive Outlook panel moderated by TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell.
The ad outlook for 2013, coming off of last year’s robust political- and auto-fueled year is good.
“We’ve heard industry executives say 2% to 4% — we’re on the 4% side of that,” said Deborah McDermott, president-CEO of Young Broadcasting. “There could be good political spending this year with gun issues, immigration issues and health care. There could be quite a bit more spending than in most off-political years.”
Although 2013 is an off-election year, Brian Lawlor, SVP of television at E. W. Scripps, expects ad spending to be strong. “For us, services like attorneys, medical and financial are very strong,” he said. “It’s not just big-box retailers but also local-based retailers where we can be part of the conversation about the campaign. Geography will also play a part in it. Right on the front page in Miami there’s a story about condo sales skyrocketing. That drives services and retail as well.”
Jessell asked the station executives about what sometimes feels like a sluggish move by TV stations to add over-the-air mobile content.
“Some people think it’s not moving fast enough,” said Bill Hoffman, EVP of Cox Media Group. “But this is very complex technology and we want to do it the right way.”
Hoffman then explained the industry’s vision for mobile TV: “We want consumers to have a device — a handset or tablet — to use them as TV. It’s an extension of free, over-the-air, one-to-many television. It’s a simulcast of over the air. We think there’s an economic model. We think people will pay for mobility.”
Lawlor said there are reasons the industry appears to be moving at a snail’s pace on this. “First, you have to develop the standard,” he said. “What’s unique about this is that we’re talking about being able to stream one to many, where one stream is covering a DMA that a TV station is serving. It’s not cell towers. It’s not bogging down minutes on phones.”
He said discussions about standards have led to ongoing discussions with TV networks about providing content.
“The good news is that we’re still having those conversations,” Lawlor said. “The better news is that we have 70-something markets lit up, with devices on the market. It has taken a while. But this is a massive undertaking for content providers, technology, cell carriers, manufacturers and broadcasters.”
Jessell asked why more stations aren’t airing local newscasts on their websites.
“Watching a newscast on the web is a pretty crummy experience,” Lawlor said. “We don’t have rights to sports, so there are blackouts. You end up with a choppy experience.”
The stations executives were asked about Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed service that allows viewers to watch local TV on their computers.
“It’s a tremendous threat,” Hoffman said. “Our system is set up for DMAs with rights to syndicated shows. To have something come in without retrans fees, no copyright fees, just to pass through without paying for content is piracy.”
And Lawlor added: “The technology innovation is important. But we are content creators and we spend millions of dollars for content. If Aereo is going to distribute our content, they have a legal obligation to pay for it.”
While the station executives felt they could legally derail Aereo, they feel less optimistic about stopping The Hopper — Dish Network’s souped-up DVR that allows viewers to automatically skip ads.
“Every company will deal with that differently,” Lawlor said. “That is a conversation between broadcast companies and Dish. It may come up in retransmission discussions. That is probably one of the times we will initiate a conversation about that.”
Jessell suggested that stations may be sacrificing hundreds of millions of dollars by not selling perhaps 10% or 15% of their spectrum back to the FCC.
“Scripps takes very seriously our mission to serve the community,” Lawlor said. “Once you give up spectrum, you’re out. We’re committed to broadcasting and we’re in it for the long haul. We need our spectrum to innovate. We need it for mobile. We need space for data. If we don’t have spectrum, we’re a cable channel.”
“I’ll pile on what Brian said,” added Hoffman. “It’s a very important part of community service to shine a light with great investigative reporting. And we need to innovate technology. A couple of years ago, the buzz was 3D. Now, it’s 4K, which takes HDTV to the next level. You don’t need too many imagination beams to say, ‘I wonder what our television stations would look like if they were on 4K.’ ”