Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Waitin’ on a Sunny Day’ serenaded attendees of the opening address at the 2003 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas, U.S. (April 5 to 10), predicting good times ahead for the American broadcast industry, if each sector does its part.
The number of U.S. stations with digital signals has grown to 809 from 225, and NAB chair and CEO Edward Fritts forecast that it will soon break 1,000. ‘It is an historical first – a whole industry changing format [in such a short time],’ he said. Fritts also applauded U.S. broadcasters for doubling high-definition programming in the past year. More than half of the three major U.S. networks’ primetime shows are currently available in HD.
Undoubtedly a major factor in digital TV’s progress in the U.S. is government regulation (2006 is the deadline for switching over). But, the one remaining holdout sector is cable – only 13% of digital TV stations are currently getting carriage. Broadcasters want cable to carry both digital and analog signals throughout the switchover, to advance digital technology while providing protection for the millions of homes presently equipped with analog sets.
What was evident at NAB was that digital technology has outpaced the marketplace. Rows of booths housed companies showing off their cutting-edge innovations, but it seems the broadcast industry has yet to find a way to make these applications profitable.
The NAB and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are working closely to deregulate the sector, although many fear that competition within broadcasting will take a hit as a result, and soon only a few independent voices will be heard across the country. Keynote speaker Barry Diller, recently resigned head of Vivendi Universal and chair and CEO of USA Interactive, countered NAB and the FCC by commenting, ‘We need more regulation, not less.’
Meanwhile, NAB’s immense trade floor was packed with exhibitors and attendees. This bodes well for manufacturers and broadcasters, as well as for the relevance of the convention itself. Still, this year’s trade show attracted 89,000 attendees (19,000 of whom were international registrants), falling slightly short of last year’s 92,000 attendees.