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Satellite Players, NAB Have Reasons To Join Forces

By | April 1, 2008

      With SATELLITE 2008 behind us, many satellite companies turn their attention to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show. But the move from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas does not come as naturally for satellite companies today as it may have in the past.

      Satellite players and the NAB have been butting heads since the 1980s over issues such as distant signals, and the relationship seems to have become more strained due to debates over satellite must-carry rules and interference problems, among other issues. This does not even take into account the NAB’s staunch opposition to the proposed merger of Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio. (At press time, Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, has hinted a decision may be made by the end of the March, but the battle looks far from over.)
      The NAB describes itself as a “trade association that advocates on behalf of more than 8,300 free, local radio and television stations and also broadcast networks.” The word “free” may explain why the organization has lobbied against the Sirius-XM and the previously scuttled DirecTV-EchoStar merger. But the remainder of the description would indicate that satellite players and the NAB would have a natural reason to cooperate, if not a reason for satellite companies to take a more active role in the NAB.

      According to the Satellite Industry Association, satellite-related broadcasting revenues have jumped from $21.8 billion in 2001 to $48.5 billion in 2006, and certainly some, if not most, of the NAB members use satellite in some capacity. Despite this broadcasting synergy, the word “contentious” can sometimes be used to describe the relationship between satellite companies and the organization sometimes referred to as the National Association of Terrestrial Broadcasters due to the feeling that the needs of terrestrial players are supported to the detriment of satellite interests — a strategy that draw comparisons to efforts by recording industry groups fighting to protect older music distribution methods and revenue streams by attempting to thwart new methods that take advantage of the latest technology.

      But the two groups should be working more hand-in-hand on a variety of issues, including:

      • The digital TV transition that will take full effect in February The two groups could work together to make sure consumers understand the transition and do not lose their service.
      • The rise of new methods for ingesting content, including the Internet, mobile services and fiber-to-the-home. All of these will have an impact on the traditional broadcasting landscape and revenues. Some satellite players think local broadcasters and satellite players would be more natural allies in a competition with cable companies.
      • Interference issues and a joint need to make sure that all broadcasters use bandwidth efficiently and do not create problems for other users in the process.

      It comes down to the simple fact that the members of the NAB and satellite companies have more reasons than ever to work together in the new telecommunications landscape. It is hard to understand why this cooperation is not already underway. The question is which side will make the first move to make this relationship a reality.

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