NAB's Smith looks to 'next-gen' as future of broadcasting… even as he warns off FCC on incentive auctions

LAS VEGAS--Next-generation technology, particularly IP-based video, is the future for broadcasters, according to NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in a keynote here, as it "allows us to do more with less," he said. But the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) chief still cast a worried eye on the future of over-the-air broadcast spectrum.

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The FCC will hold an incentive auction in 2016 of 600 MHz broadcast spectrum that, when complete, will leave the broadcast industry with just 60 percent of its spectrum, he noted, while 80 percent of full-power stations will remain after others either cease broadcast operations or drop from a UHF to a low VHF channel. And while the recent wireless spectrum auction generated billions of dollars for bidders like Dish Network, Smith feels the industry will only see the same result if the FCC takes a low-touch approach to the process.

"The FCC must simplify its rules and stay out of the price-determining business, and instead allow the market to determine the price of each 6 MHz channel," he said.

Still, Smith's keynote ahead of the official opening of NAB seemed slightly less entrenched than in previous years and more attuned to the inevitability of OTT video.

"This is a crucial time for those in the industry to work together to ensure that broadcast TV's one-to-many architecture successfully extends to emerging platforms," he said, after laying out the case that "every other industry" is in the process of advancing their core technologies through innovation.

"By going to next gen, broadcasting would be playing both defense and offense," Smith said. "Defensively, we would protect our ability to easily integrate with existing partners. Offensively, it would give us the flexibility to choose and pursue the promise of ultra HD, targeted advertising, datacasting, mobility and enhanced multicasting on a shared channel."

Smith's comments gave a very broad view of broadcast strategy in the next several months, but it points to an increasing openness by NAB toward OTT video. With the spectrum auction delayed until next year, the implied message--that broadcasters need to think about new possibilities, like shifting their operations entirely to OTT playout and distribution instead of jumping to another frequency, or considering a diginet strategy, in return for higher incentive payouts--was very much in place.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will get his chance to make the commission's case for the incentive auction on Wednesday, when he keynotes the NAB Show's third day.

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