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special report global broadcast summit

How do you see over-the-air broadcasters fitting into the future media landscape? Universal access is a cornerstone of our mission here in the United States. We see free, over-the-air access to our content as critically important. While it is true the majority of viewers in the United States have access to a pay-television service of some type, those who don’t are among our society’s most vulnerable - the elderly, households with young children, people living in rural areas, and those who do not speak English. In challenging economic times, a cable or satellite subscription can be suddenly out of reach. America cannot leave any of these underserved viewers behind. And contrary to any rumours to the

contrary, television is still the major form of media consumption in the United States. According to the most recent data from Nielsen, the average American viewer watches nearly 147 hours of television a month, which is up slightly over last year. By comparison, Americans who watch video on the Internet and on mobile video consume about four hours monthly, but, of course, those numbers are increasing quickly. Over the course of the year, 91% of US television households and 236 million people watch PBS. So, while we are looking for ways to connect to our audiences, we know that millions of Americans rely on our broadcast services, so on-air content will continue to be a core part of our activities.

What will be the role of governments in the future media landscape? In particular can they maintain the same level of control they have had in the past or will technology empower the populace? In America, the government plays no direct role in the media, except in the areas of licensee regulation through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It’s certainly true that the barriers to participation in media have been dramatically lowered by new technology. Media creation has become much easier for the average person. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google,

has estimated that humans now create as much information in two days as we did from the appearance of homo sapiens until 2003. I don’t see how any government could maintain a level of control over that amount of information as it did before

12 l ibe l september/october 2012 l

the widespread availability of broadband Internet access, social media and smart phones.

Michael McEwen, who was recently named director general of the North American Broadcasters

Association (NABA), one of the most influential broadcasting organisations in the world, will drive the discussion as the GBS chair.

What issues will the global tendency for the convergence of media regulation and telecommunications regulation cause broadcasters? As the very word ‘convergence’ indicates, the lines are blurring in the media world. The once neat categories of, for example, television programming and Internet content are evolving at lightning speed. And certainly technology is changing at a pace that regulators and regulations can’t possibly match. I think it will be an ongoing

challenge for media enterprises of all types to operate in a world where the reality of the current environment is going to be increasingly different to the one envisioned by existing regulations.

What is your view of the spectrum debate and the growing need for mobile spectrum that is impinging on broadcasters needs? In the United States, the president and the government’s regulator for communications - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - has proposed a voluntary spectrum auction, in order to make more spectrum available for broadband providers. The ramifications of this proposed auction are many: from a threat to our promise of universal service to all citizens, to a potential source of additional revenue for public television stations. PBS has worked with local public

television stations who are PBS members to articulate our system’s principles when it comes to spectrum

reallocation. We feel strongly that any plan to reallocate spectrum should: • Maintain free universal service; • Be entirely voluntary; • Should recognise and reflect the

distinctions between public and commercial broadcasters, and take into account the ways that our public stations use multicasting to serve the public; • And 100% of the proceeds from

any auction of spectrum held by a public television station should remain within the public television system. There are many different legislative

options that have been drafted, and it’s unclear at this point how things will proceed. We will be monitoring the situation carefully as we move forward, to make sure that PBS member stations best interests are taken into account.

In the new digital world will programme producers try to bypass the broadcasters and go direct to the consumer to an appreciable amount that will affect the market? I don’t think it needs to be seen as ‘bypassing’. At PBS, we really see our on-air work and our activities in the digital world as being complementary and even mutually beneficial. I mentioned earlier how popular our

video streaming and apps have been on mobile platforms. Our apps include local tune-in information for the user’s community-based station, which helps drive on-air viewership as well as traffic on local station sites. At the national level, we’ve seen how social media helped to build Downton Abbey into an American phenomenon. As a public service media enterprise, we don’t have the budget for paid marketing and promotion that commercial networks do, so social media is an important tool for getting the word out about a programme and for building enthusiasm for it. Fans across our nation discussed

Downton avidly with others, and many people were tweeting about the show while the episodes aired. People were sharing the experience of watching the show on television through social media, which really added to the viewing experience. When Downton won a Golden Globe award last year, it was the most tweeted moment of the awards programme broadcast. So, I really do see converging media

as something that can help broadcasters bring an even more immersive and exciting experience to their audience.

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