By David Oxenford
On my blog, I usually write about the legal issues for broadcasters, both the usual FCC issues and those that arise in connection with the convergence of new media and traditional operations. I thank Jennifer for giving me the opportunity to fill in for her, and to have an opportunity to go beyond a discussion of legal issues, to express my concerns about broadcasters and the future as they attempt to figure out how to handle the challenges and opportunities of the new media. With the current economy, many broadcasters are naturally focused on what they perceive as their core business, while that core business may be changing under their feet.
I recently attended the BIAfn Winning Media Strategies Conference in Washington, where speaker after speaker talked about the need for broadcasters to embrace the new media to provide content that their audiences were seeking when and where their audience wanted it. One of the most impressive presentations was by Greenspun Media from Las Vegas, which has reinvented a secondary newspaper and a Low Power TV station as an on-line powerhouse, uncovering the aspects of the community that would draw the largest on-line audience and providing that content in great detail. The Las Vegas Sun site not only covers hard news, but also the gaming industry, University of Las Vegas sports and even state government issues in a way that its audience seems to find interesting. The site even features an interactive history of Las Vegas, in great detail, that’s lots of fun to play with for anyone who has ever spent time in the city. And video plays a big part of the site, with the company in development of a hip news and events program, 702.tv, that will soon be a daily program on the television station as well as an online feature (including having local “celebrities” doing the weather, including strippers and Neil Diamond sound-alikes).
While this display of the power of the use of online media was very impressive, I was disturbed that many of the broadcasters in attendance dismissed the Greenspun presentation, submitting that Las Vegas presented unique opportunities that are not available in all communities. In fact, in reaction to calls in Audio4cast and other blogs, urging broadcasters to adopt and exploit the new media, I have seen reactions claiming that, in most markets audiences don’t want or need content delivered on the Internet or through mobile devices. Their audiences don’t care, say some, about online video, and they don’t use Twitter or Facebook, or other new technologies. Instead, some claim that all their audiences want is what they have “always” wanted, good broadcast products. Others worry about legal issues, like the royalties for Internet radio operations, or just worry about how they can use new media that they don’t fully understand.
I fear that some are underestimating their audiences and their use of new media, whether it be online audio or video or some form of social networking. Being a relatively new adopter of both Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been amazed to find how many people of my baby boomer generation have adopted, accepted and revel in these services, spending far more time than they should reviewing their profiles and keeping track of the lives of their acquaintances (or the lives of strangers). The new media is incredibly relevant and engrossing – apparently even more so to those of younger generations. My 20-something kids rarely watch the TV or listen to music (or do much else for that matter) without having their laptops open, checking their Facebook pages regularly to see if any friend has posted anything new, or surfing their favorite websites, fan pages, blogs or video aggregators to make sure that there is nothing that they are missing.
And this is a worldwide phenomenon. Twitter and Facebook are clearly enhancing their images in the revolution in Iran, where few media reports mention radio or television except to dismiss the state-run broadcast services, but all talk about the role of the new media. I recently visited India on vacation, and was struck to see the ubiquity of the cell phone, being sold and used in even the tiniest villages, with 3G wireless services available in the remote countryside, far from the major cities. And people were not just talking, but texting and using other online services everywhere. And while there is commercial radio, I almost never heard it being played. When I asked one of our guides about whether the typical resident of India listens to the radio, he said, yes, many of the older people still listen.
The new media is not a fad. It is not going to fade away. Its adoption in remote towns in America or elsewhere in the world cannot be wished away. Broadcasters now have the opportunity, when they still have the brands that many still find relevant, to stake out positions on the new media frontier, and to drive traffic to their sites. I know that other companies that do not have broadcast stations are already trying to grab that territory, so it won’t be there for long. Now is not the time for broadcasters to be timid. Grab the revolution, become part of it. Don’t let the inevitable march of technology leave you as an historical relic.
David Oxenford is a partner in the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine in its offices in Washington DC. David represents broadcasters, webcasters and other digital media companies on FCC regulatory matters, in transactions and in connection with music rights issues. He writes about these issues on his blog: www.broadcastlawblog.com