NAB Show: Peter Guber Calls on Broadcasters To Embrace Virtual Reality

Keynote speakers call for industry to embrace next-generation technology

Peter Guber

Las Vegas — The keynote speakers at Monday’s National Assn. of Broadcasters show opening event called on the broadcasting and entertainment industries to embrace new tech, notably virtual reality and next-generation TV standards.

Producer, former studio chief and mogul Peter Guber called on broadcasters and the entertainment industry to embrace new media, especially virtual reality, while NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith told broadcasters that while broadcasting is here to stay, next gen tech is key to its future.

Guber, speaking at the opening session of the National Assn. of Broadcasters Show, said that while it seems impossible to define success in a way that fits all the companies and people at a conference so diverse, he said the industry should be devoted to a single idea: “a constant and never-ending quest to deepen the engagement and immersion of our audiences. This imperative must be kept centerstage if you want your technology and your content to yield treasures instead of time bombs.”

Guber said that while then entrenched powers in entertainment would prefer to see a gradual evolution, “What we have on our hands to today is a revolution, and revolutions can be lethal. But in that chaos lies all of our opportunity.”

He challenged the industry to combine information with emotion, saying, “Success derives not just on state-of-the-art technology, but on making them state-of-the-heart technology. … You must think of yourselves as in the emotional transportation business.”

Then he turned specifically to virtual reality headsets. The arrival of VR on cell phones — which we’re all addicted to, according to Guber — combined with immersive content, “will change everything,” he said. “It will not end newspapers, it will not end radio, it will not end television. … But it does drive the most important single imperative: audience immersion and engagement with the medium.”

“This is the way we’re going to deal with the future,” he said. “We’re going to deal with more and more immersive technologies.”

Guber observed that VR puts viewers in charge of their experience, just as they are when they’re present at an event, because they choose what to look at, when they want to look at it. He pointed to the red carpets, sports contests and Golden Globes as events ideal for VR. And while today’s VR is bulky and inconvenient, he admitted, “It will get all kinds of changes because the audience will crave it.”

Guber was preceded by Smith’s keynote address. Smith also pointed to future tech as a key to the broadcasting industry.

In his fifth year at the NAB Show podium, Smith was less combative than in previous years, eschewing criticism of the FCC or Obama administration policies. Smith instead focused on the broadcasting industry’s need to embrace next-generation technology.

He called the recent spectrum auction “wildly successful,” which is notable because Smith had been very skeptical of the FCC’s auction program in the past. He continued to sound a note of caution about the upcoming TV spectrum auction.

“The one refrain I have heard, however, is that this participation is contingent on the FCC getting the auction rules right. The FCC must simplify its rules and stay out of the price-determining business, and instead allow the market to determine the price of each 6 MHz channel.”

“If the commission can stay out of the way,” said Smith, “I believe we can have a successful incentive auction.”

Smith took a swipe at the myriad of new information sources available on the Internet and cable. “When people go to these sources of information, what do they find?” said Smith. “Maybe a heated debate over the color of a dress… Or maybe the latest celebrity gossip on Kim and Kanye. Or maybe they stumble upon crass and degrading material.” He added that pay TV often isn’t much better. “There the so-called news is fraught with partisan bickering, where the end-goal seems to be who can shout the loudest.”

He cited his onetime Senate colleague Charles Schumer, who observed that local news is where viewers go to get “just the facts.” Smith even lamented, “Sadly, we have become a more fragmented society,” a marked shift in tone from his own previous addresses.

Smith’s paean to the service that local broadcasters provide to their markets is a perennial theme of his NAB Show keynote address, but this year it was somewhat muted. In part he defended broadcasting as a public service, not as a thriving business enterprise. He may also have been more muted in touting broadcasting because — as Smith acknowledged — the industry must adopt next-generation technology to continue to provide those services.

If the spectrum auction is successful, he said it will “leave the industry with 80% of its full power stations, but only 60% of our current spectrum. This leaves our industry with a key choice. Do we want to do less with less, or seize the opportunity to do more with less?” He said the next generation TV and radio platforms are the key to doing more with less.

“In an increasingly fragmented marketplace, next-gen promises to provide flexibility, IP interoperability and new revenue streams; opportunities to innovate to better serve our communities; and the ability to compete in a mobile world.

He said this NAB Show showcases how broadcasters are innovating, pointing to the Hybrid TV demonstration created by NAB labs, which shows some of the capabilities that might come in the next TV standard, ATSC 3.0, and an 8K TV demo on a 350-inch screen.

“I believe next gen may be the key to building TV’s future,” said Smith. “We are excited about the promise of 4K Ultra HDTV, which adds more resolution and contrast to broadcast video. … We’re also witnessing radio’s exciting evolution at the show.” He cited NAB’s support for the NextRadio app, which puts FM radio stations on smartphones.

The inability of mobile devices to receive broadcast TV and radio has put broadcasters at a considerable disadvantage as consumers abandon radios and portable TVs in favor of phones and tablets.

The third major speaker at the morning’s show open was Jerry Lewis, who received the NAB’s Distinguished Service Award. Lewis, whose Labor Day Telethon raised vast funds to help children with Muscular Dystrophy, told the gathering “I’m humbled — a word rarely associated with my name.”

“It’s an exceptional feeling to be commended for doing what your heart says you should do,” said Lewis.