You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney TV Chief Ben Sherwood Urges Broadcasters to Take ‘Urgent, Smart Action’

NAB chairman Smith warns of TV station disruption after spectrum auction

In recent years, the NAB Show opening keynotes have been marked by rancor and suspicion toward the FCC, hostility to pay TV and patriotic rhetoric about the vital role of broadcasting in American democracy.

This year, as National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith and Disney TV’s Ben Sherwood kicked off the trade show on Monday, the patriotism gained a note of populism, the rancor was toned down, and the focus turned more toward joining the future than fighting it.

“In candor, this is not a time for complacency. This is a time for urgent, smart action,” Sherwood told the gathering at the Westgate Hotel. He spent much of his keynote address laying out a threefold strategy for the TV broadcasting industry. The NAB appearance marked Sherwood’s most high-profile public comments since taking the reins of Disney/ABC TV Group in February 2015.

First, Sherwood said, broadcast TV should leverage its existing local base and “continue to build community and build connection.”

“What we can do in ways no one else can match is bring people together,” said Sherwood, observing that U.S. broadcasting is a $1.24 trillion industry and supports 2.65 million jobs.

The second prong of his strategy, he said, is “relentless focus to innovation. Static has always been a bad word in television, and today static, stasis, is a dangerous word.” He announced a new “ABC Clearinghouse” initiative for program distribution, with DirecTV and Sony PlayStation Vue among the first providers to be part of the effort to accelerate the expansion of authenticated streaming via ABC’s affiliate stations.

“The third way forward: Make great stuff,” said Sherwood. He noted that “great storytelling is timeless” and pointed to ABC’s relationship with showrunner Shonda Rhimes as an example of the network’s “Elvis strategy,” that focuses on great topline talent.

In his state of the industry address, Smith noted that the long-planned spectrum auction, which shifts some frequencies from TV stations to mobile providers, began last month. In years past, Smith’s position on the auction was defensive. This year, he said, “It’s been an enormously complex undertaking, and the FCC deserves an enormous amount of credit for bringing the auction to this point.” But he warned that of challenges ahead as “the majority of remaining broadcasters will have to move their channels to make room for the wireless carriers.”

“Policymakers should, and I believe they will, make sure that the time and the funds that are necessary are in fact sufficient to allow broadcasters to complete the move,” said Smith.

Smith also warned that FCC policies have “unwittingly put us on an unnecessary collision course toward two Americas: one where the video future is available to those who can afford to pay, and one where they cannot.” He tied that notion to retransmission fees, warning that if the FCC overturns them, “the FCC may then guarantee that the content viewers most need, the content they most want, the content they most enjoy — well, then that content will only be available for those who can afford it.”

Smith has previously urged the broadcasting industry to embrace next-generation TV standards. This year he announced that the NAB, along with consumer electronics, public safety and public television advocates, has filed a petition asking the FCC to approve a next-gen TV standard “for those who voluntarily choose to adopt it.” How such a voluntary switch would work is not clear, as then neither the current digital TV standard nor the new standard would actually be “standard.”

The new TV standard, known as ATSC 3.0, is getting its first U.S. demonstration at the NAB Show’s Futures Park. It will include UltraHD, enhanced sound and the ability to send TV signals to mobile devices.

Both Smith and Sherwood jabbed at presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Smith, a former two-term U.S. Senator himself, said “It is true we are in an age of information overload such that bumper-sticker simplicity, such as ‘Feel the Bern’ or ‘Make America Great Again’ somehow seems to move votes.” Later Sherwood joked: “We live in interesting times, an unruly, unpredictable moment, and we have Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to thank for part of that.”

More TV

  • 50 Cent Power

    NYPD Officer Under Investigation for Allegedly Telling Police to Shoot 50 Cent 'on Sight'

    A New York City precinct commander is under investigation for allegedly telling officers to shoot rapper 50 Cent on sight, a police rep confirmed to Variety on Sunday. “The matter is under internal review,” an NYPD rep said, declining to answer further questions. Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez is accused of telling officers during a June 7 roll [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Good Morning America

    Jussie Smollett Angrily Denies Complicity in Attack

    Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett issued a statement Saturday denying that he orchestrated his Jan. 29 assault, and saying he is “angered” and “devastated” by recent developments in the case. Chicago police want to interview Smollett, after learning new evidence from two Nigerian brothers who were released on Friday night. Local media outlets have [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett as New Evidence Emerges

    Chicago police are seeking to re-interview “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, after new evidence emerged in his alleged assault. Smollett has claimed that two men attacked him at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Police Department has consistently said [...]

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content