Tom Wheeler gave as good as he’s gotten today when he addressed a potentially hostile audience of TV and radio station owners at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. “Trust me. I get the skepticism,” he told the group which has been irked by his efforts to block local station cooperative agreements, among other things. “Here’s the former head of the cable AND the wireless industry at the NAB Show telling you he’s your friend….There is no more ridiculous metaphor.” But he assured the audience that now “I have the American people as my client.” And they would be best served if broadcasters think differently about their medium.
“We are at an inflection point where broadcast licensees can move from being the disrupted, to being the disruptor,” much like Netflix, the FCC chairman says. Instead of just hitting up pay TV providers for retransmission fees, local stations can create vibrant local news and entertainment online services. “It can be the basis for a fixed and mobile-delivered cable-like service. You possess the two most important components of a successful digital strategy: compelling content – specifically, the most important content: local content – and the means to promote it. …For all the wonderful things the Internet has done, one place that it has yet to deliver on its promise is local content.” Net neutrality would ensure that these services are carried online. But “your window of opportunity won’t stay open forever,” he says, nothing that others including Yahoo and Verizon are preparing deals to offer competitive content.
Wheeler also stood up for an unpopular idea among broadcasters — the FCC’s effort to persuade them to auction off some or all of their airwave spectrum so it can be repurposed for mobile broadband. “The FCC is simply doing what Congress authorized: creating a market mechanism for spectrum reallocation. There is no conspiracy. Those who want to participate can. Those who choose not to participate, that’s fine as well. You will have the ability to determine for yourself if you want to participate.” But he hinted that they’d be foolish to pass up “a terrific financial opportunity” to take advantage of technologies that enable two channels to share the spectrum that each used to need to beam its programming. “Spectrum sharing will allow you to maintain your existing business while taking home an auction check. It is a once-in-a-lifetime, virtually risk-free opportunity to expand your business model on somebody else’s dime.” He urged station owners not to wait because “the Incentive Auction opportunity is not likely to come again anytime soon.”