NAB President Curtis LeGeyt On Why Congress Needs To Help Save Local Media And How Stations Plan To Ensure Free TV’s Future – Q&A

The National Association of Broadcasters has returned its annual show to Las Vegas after a two-year absence due to Covid, again bringing together tens of thousands of station and technology executives to the sprawling convention center.

Curtis LeGeyt, who became president and CEO of NAB early this year, told the gathering on Monday that, given all that has happened since the last NAB Show, “the stakes for local broadcasters and the audiences who rely on us have never been greater.”

In a recent interview with Deadline, LeGeyt talked about NAB’s agenda in Congress, which has taken a more urgent interest in the fate of local journalism, and at the FCC, which has been in a partisan stalemate since President Joe Biden took office. Among the bills before lawmakers are the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would create a safe harbor for local outlets to jointly negotiate deals with tec platforms, as well as bills to give tax credits for hiring local news reporters.

That said, broadcasters for years have been pitching “NextGen TV,” the next derivation of the broadcast standard that merges broadcast with broadband, giving viewers more of a web experience as they watch over-the-air TV.

DEADLINE: You have talked about how broadcasters can be the antidote to misinformation and polarization on social media and cable news. Is that a new message for NAB going forward?

CURTIS LEGEYT: Our members, both television and radio, have met the moment in a way that’s just unique in the current media landscape. Stepping up investing in local journalism, resources and local content, the business opportunity is clearly there right now to fill the void that unfortunately has been left by the newspapers. Audiences are thirsting for trusted, unbiased information. And this is a place where, at the very moment [during Covid] where audiences needed that trusted information most, they needed a place to turn, our members provided that.
Almost more important during Covid, though, is that unity, and this notion of having local mediums who are boots on the ground in communities across the country and can really relate to the individual challenges that those communities are facing. Those local personalities on television and radio know how to speak to their audiences, know how to relate to their audiences — I think I’ve been able to connect with them and provide the resources that those communities are looking for in a way that the national media can’t always get at a broad-brush approach.

DEADLINE: There are a number of pieces of legislation right now in Congress to address local media. Do you see them moving forward?

LEGEYT: I think this is one of the few areas in Washington, D.C., that there’s bipartisan interest in doing something. … I think at some point there will be a tech package. I wouldn’t sit here and predict the scope of it. But I think Congress absolutely needs to do something on the antitrust front. Too much work has been put in. There’s support from the agencies to do it. The area that we’re really focused on is a bill called the Journalism Competition Preservation Act, which would effectively for local broadcasters level the playing field with the tech platforms as it relates to local content that’s being accessed through their sites. Right now the marketplace is just absolutely broken as it relates to local broadcasters and local newspapers. … This bill would allow us to jointly negotiate for fair marketplace terms for that access [to tech platforms]. I think it’s going to be really key to allowing local media, both broadcasters and newspapers, to have a business model that allows us to reinvest in that content production.

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DEADLINE: What about some of the broader pieces of antitrust legislation? Does NAB take a position on, say, a bill to try to prevent tech platforms from self-dealing.

LEGEYT: As a matter of concept, we absolutely support these broader efforts to rein in the gatekeeping ability and the market power of these tech platforms. You speak to the non-discrimination bill. You know, our membership is a broad tent, but we absolutely support the notion that there needs to be fair competition as it relates to any of the businesses that these tech platforms happen to be involved in.

DEADLINE: The Build Back Better bill included a provision for tax credits for local journalism hiring. Now that the legislation has been sidelined, is that proposal also dead?

LEGEYT: That provision that is in Build Back Better is also a stand-alone bill. It’s the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, and we absolutely see areas of opportunity to make some progress on that legislation. The Democrats continue to discuss whether there is some path to do a package on reconciliation. One thing that we always point to with regard to The Local Journalism Sustainability Act is it is a provision that has support from all sides of the Democratic Party, both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are co sponsors of the underlying legislation. … This notion of helping local media — and ensuring that a business model continues to exist to incent local broadcasters, local newspapers, to invest in local — that’s is not a partisan issue. That thesis has support from both Republicans and Democrats. There are different ways to get there.

DEADLINE: The performance royalty. This has been a long, long battle. Do you see any kind of compromise to settle this issue once and for all? [Musical artists and recording labels have been pushing for legislation that requires broadcast stations to pay for airplay of their works.]

LEGEYT: Well, I would like to see one. And what I mean by that is, you’re right, this is a decades-old issue. In the real world, local radio broadcasters and local artists are working together day in/day out in partnership, as a matter of promotion and as just a matter of mutual service. And I’d like to see that translate into Washington policy. And I think the way to do that from a broadcast perspective is to ensure that any solution here also better incentivizes broadcasters to innovate in the digital space and to set up an economic framework where more airplay, whether it’s terrestrial or through a stream on a local station, can take place. Because right now, the economics just don’t work for a local broadcast station that is trying to move into streaming, and I think it benefits both broadcast listeners as well as performers if we have a structure that makes it affordable to play music. So that’s where I can see a potential win-win here. But we’ve made very clear that the current legislation that the record labels are pushing is just a non-starter from a broadcast perspective.

DEADLINE: But don’t market trends change the dynamics?

LEGEYT: Well, look, there’s no doubt that listeners are migrating to streaming for their consumption of music. That said, local broadcast radio continues to be the most listened-to medium for audio consumption in terms of the scope of the audience that touches our medium every week relative to other platforms. We need to be innovating. We need to ensure that we’re reaching our listeners, however they want to access our content. But make no mistake, there’s going to be a critical mass of audience that is attracted to radio for what we uniquely provide — locally focused content, completely free. Not everyone wants to pay for an expensive streaming service. But we need to be there to navigate those audience trends as well. To some degree, that audience migration has changed the dynamics of this issue, which is why I’d like to see Congress deal with it holistically.

DEADLINE: The FCC is in a 2-2 deadlock. A third Democrat might not be so favorable to deregulation. Is it in NAB’s interest to that that there is a deadlock?

LEGEYT: There’s a very there’s very much a bipartisan interest right now in policies that help ensure a vibrant future for local broadcasting. And we’re very confident in our ability to tell that story to Democrats and Republicans at the FCC. I’m very confident we’ll be able to work with whoever that fifth commissioner is. We certainly have a long-standing relationship with Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel, and so we are going to tell that story regardless of whether it’s a 2-2 commission or a 3-2 commission.

DEADLINE: If there is a 3-2 commission, how concerned are you that they will try to reinstate some of the media-ownership limits that were eased during the previous administration?

LEGEYT: I’m not going to make predictions on what the commission may or may not do. To me the marketplace realities right now are so evident that broadcasters are facing immense competition from these tech behemoths for local audience, local advertising dollars, that we need to navigate. There’s one conversation going on on Capitol Hill as to how to rein in these tech behemoths. There’s another one that needs to take place at the FCC as to whether broadcasters under the current regulatory regime are equipped to compete in today’s media landscape. I would argue that these rules are antiquated and don’t reflect the reality of that marketplace.

DEADLINE: And what do you think needs to be done to increase ownership diversity?

LEGEYT: This is something as a trade association we’re extremely focused on. We have a leadership foundation that has invested incredible amounts of resources in training programs, recruitment and retention. But to me, we need — as a matter of both public service and as good business — to be local stations that reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. We have work to do in that regard. This needs to be solved boots-on-the-ground, and we need to be getting into not just colleges but high schools to tell the story of local broadcasting to attract young, diverse talent into our industry. We need to be investing as an industry in job fairs and training to ensure that the talent that we do bring in is promoted up the ranks, and we’re making that investment but it’s one where we’re going to continue to do more. We look forward to partnering with the FCC on that. We’ve said very directly to the FCC that their cheerleading for our industry as we’re competing for talent with these tech behemoths is one of the most important things that they can do. But this is one that’s going to be solved boots on the ground. I don’t think it is a regulatory or legislative issue at its core. I think it’s a recruitment, retention, training issue. The onus is on us to devote those resources, and we’re doing it.

DEADLINE: NextGen TV. Do you feel a sense of urgency to get this rolled out throughout the country to ensure that broadcasting remains a habit among consumers?

LEGEYT: Absolute sense of urgency. Just look at the transformations that have taken place in the media landscape from the point in which we started conceptualizing NextGen TV almost a decade ago to where we are today. We need this technology to be deployed across the country in order to effectively compete. I couldn’t be more encouraged by the pace of the deployment over the last two years, in spite of all the challenges that Covid brought to bear from a supply chain perspective and otherwise. all these stations have been dealing with their own unique challenges and continuing to deliver quality programming to local communities in spite of what’s happened in the country, and they’ve been rolling out ATSC 3.0 at the same time. So it’s amazing that we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten, but we need to go faster. And and the industry is unified behind that. You know, we are already as a matter of audience reach have [NextGen TV] signals accessible in more than half the country. We are very optimistic by the end of this year that that number is going to be closer to 80%. And that’s what we need to build upon here.

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