(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
Day One of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, April 13, began with a pep rally in the Westgate Hotel next to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The conclave of television, radio, internet and supporting industries attracted 100,000 people to Vegas. But the attendees did have a few things to worry about.
NAB President Gordon H. Smith, former senator from Oregon and NAB president since 2009, began the meeting with a kick-off speech that quoted Yogi Berra: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” He listed some of the challenges facing broadcasters, including increasing competition from cable operators and a billion internet sites. He bemoaned the fact that society was more fragmented than ever before, that cable news was just a series of shouting matches, and that people spent their time concerned over what color a dress was or what Kim and Kanye were arguing about today.
In contrast to this, Smith pointed out that local TV and radio are more trusted and vital than ever before. “People turn to us,” he said, “when they just want the facts; no shouting.”
“That’s why local radio and television stations are more relevant, more vital and more trusted than ever before,” he said. “I don’t usually think in hypotheticals, but I sometimes wonder ‘what if.’
“What if broadcast radio and television didn’t exist? What if communities didn’t have a medium that could instantaneously warn them of impending danger, and tell them how to keep safe?…anywhere they are – no matter the time of the day?…especially when all other platforms crash and fail. What if there were no local TV and radio stations to support the charities that help our friends and neighbors in need? Or to investigate and uncover government corruption and scams. What if there were no local stations to help connect small businesses with their consumers, spurring economic activity and creating jobs and opportunity?”
Smith said that this reminded him of George Bailey in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: When Bailey was shown how life would be without him, he realized he had forgotten how great his life really was.
He concluded that it was the same for broadcasters: “In radio and television, there are moments like Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the first moon landing, and the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, that make everyone want to stop what they’re doing and experience them together. What other medium can bring our nation – our communities – together like this? There is only one – the medium of broadcasting.”
The presentation of the NAB Achievement Award was next on the agenda.
Smith presented this year’s award to Jerry Lewis who accepted the award in person.
I met (bothered) Lewis in a restaurant in Palm Springs about 15 years ago. He actually looked much healthier now at 89 years old than he did then.
Lewis seemed sincerely grateful for the award from NAB, and in true old trooper fashion, he ended his remarks with a joke. “I was in New York recently and realized that I hadn’t been on the subway in 10 years. I decided to take a short trip. I sat there and at the next stop a young man got on. He was dressed in leather pants, leather shirt, a chain running from his ear to his nose and his hair went up from his head in three spikes, each in a different color.
“He noticed me looking at him and said, ‘What’s the matter old man, never did anything unusual?’ I said, ‘Yes I have. Twenty years ago, I had sex with a parrot and I was trying to figure out if you were my son.’”
The main cheerleader for the event was Peter Guber. Guber has quite a resume: movie producer, best-selling author, UCLA professor, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, and Chairman of Dick Clark Productions which produces the American Music Awards and the Golden Globes. He is also the owner of the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles major league soccer club.
Guber argued that although new media rarely replaces old media, it does cause old media to change, as television did with radio.
“Typically,” he said, “you have the artist at one end of the media stream and the audience at the other end with gatekeepers to keep everyone in their box.
“This simple one-way model is being turned on its head. The audience is demanding to be participants.” He pointed to the rise of the “second screen,” live tweeting, and other forms of social media that allow participation before, during and after an event.
He argued that broadcasters must challenge the system themselves and not be the gatekeepers. “To succeed today, you need a new philosophy and the process will not be tidy.”
Guber’s message to broadcasters: “Challenge your own incumbency.”
Guber said there were numerous areas where this was going to apply, but he had time to go into only one: Virtual Reality (VR).
“Take sports broadcasting,” he said. “I talked the NBA into allowing me to do an experiment with virtual reality at a Warriors game which we sent to a closed-circuit test audience. By putting a shoebox-size camera on the timekeeper’s table we were able to offer viewers the ability to use a virtual reality device to look wherever they wanted to on the court. They could follow the action, check the score or look at the girls.”
Guber also cautioned broadcasters not to use the word customer. “When you call someone a customer they immediately reach over to protect their wallet. You must be audience-centric.”
“To build audiences you need to get them to open their hearts to your stories,” Guber said. “You need to use state-of-the-heart technologies. When emotion is bound with information, it becomes actionable.”
He gave examples of people watching a show and being able – interactively, without stopping the main content – buy a t-shirt or other item that relates to the content. Someday, he predicted, Macy’s and Nordstrom would probably have virtual reality cameras in their stores.
“People long for connection and participation. Your interactive content can drive this addiction. You must think of yourself as in the emotional transportation business. Just imagine being able to virtually sit in the best seat in a sports stadium or the front row of the Golden Globes.”
Guber concluded: “For broadcasters this is not the end. It is not even the end of the beginning. It is the beginning of the beginning.”
The pep rally worked. Even I left the room excited, and I’m not even a broadcaster.