Broadcasters descending into madness, says CEA president

23 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, has published a blistering attack on U.S. broadcasters, characterising their rear-guard opposition to new technology as the madness and nonsense of Alice’s Wonderland and urging congress to yank the licenses of television stations that act against the public interest. Not just in what they put on the air, but also their business practices. Shapiro points to a decision by CBS executives to suppress a news story that didn’t fall in line with their business goals…

Last year, CBS leadership reversed a decision by 40 CNET editors who voted the DISH Hopper Sling the best innovation at the 2013 International CES®. CBS and other broadcasters sued DISH over its ad-skipping Hopper, but so far the courts have said this feature is legal. Worse, CBS’s top executives ordered their editors to lie about removing the Hopper from the “Best of” CES list.

Other examples offered by Shapiro include broadcasters’ opposition to Aereo and cable and satellite blackouts resulting from fights over fees paid to retransmit their signals.

To say the least, it’s unlikely that congress will start revoking broadcast licenses. In fact, it’s authorised the FCC to spend billions of dollars to buy back channel space to clear spectrum for wireless broadband service. And Shapiro’s hyperbole has more than a touch of disingenuousness: he (correctly) brands the National Association of Broadcasters as the industry’s “lobbying arm” but neglects to mention that his organisation fills the same role for consumer electronics manufacturers.

Shapiro is dead on, though, in characterising broadcasters as essentially Luddites. The followers of Ned Ludd fought against new technology that was displacing the old technology they relied on to make a living. Television broadcasters had a good run – many fortunes were made in the past 65 years – but their hold on a national audience continues to slip, as does the number of people who watch TV channels over the air.

Broadcasters have every right to try block innovation that doesn’t serve their interests, just as everyone else has a right – a duty – to ignore them when possible and oppose them when not. That includes congress, courts and the FCC.