While mission critical issues such as Universal Service have occupied a great deal of the press from NTCA in terms of what we are up to these days, that certainly does not mean that we also don’t devote a fair amount of time and energy to video issues – battling the crazy imbalance on retransmission consent agreements that our members are subjected to (because I would not even consider calling them a negotiation in any way, shape or form!), working with key congressional leaders on Local Choice legislation, focusing policymakers’ attention on the ever-rising cost of content and the industry consolidation in that space. That is why I thought I would do a quick bop over to the NCTC/ACA show in Chicago to see what the buzz was at their meeting, connect with folks in the industry, see a few NTCA members and take a tour around their show so that I could have EXPO envy – not from the content perspective but who doesn’t want to have see the Chicago Bull battling another frightening sports icon in the middle of a show floor?!
On the substance, not flair side, the opening general session did have an interesting panel of folks who shared their perspectives on what was top of mind for them and what were some initiatives that they were looking at down the road. Dave Heimbach with Shentel shared his thoughts on 5G and how tower density was an issue for rural America but Shentel’s unique relationship with Sprint has them focused on densifying their networks and building the robust fiber network needed along with their interest in the C-Band spectrum and CBRS as the company looks for a diverse strategy in the days to come. I also thought the Shentel “take” on prepaid broadband that they sell at Dollar General, for a small premium, was an interesting way to fill a market gap.
Another really interesting perspective came from Todd Schurz, President of Schurz Communications based in Indiana. He talked a great deal about his company’s efforts to create partnerships to fill some of the rural broadband void. They have partnered with local governments, with telecom and electric cooperatives and others to really expand in rural markets. He noted ongoing partnerships in Minnesota and Iowa and likely a few other places in the Midwest. It was interesting to hear his theme and I tried to be as “unstalker” like as possible when I hung out in the back of the ballroom to catch him on his way out so that we could compare business cards and notes.
The opening session felt more like an NTCA meeting a few years ago as folks on the stage really focused on rural broadband strategies and whether or not they had one or whether or not they could double down in a rural market….so I was surprised how little talk came from the stage on retransmission consent agreements, STELA reauthorization efforts or programming challenges. But at the same time, the audience was a mix of providers, vendors, content providers and others so I guess when Sinclair treats you to a night at Wrigley Field, it’s hard to talk about some of the really tough issues in the industry in mixed company. I was hoping to hear more about what this sector thinks about LoCast and found a great deal of intrigue, particularly with AT&T’s recent participation, but no consensus. Something we will all be following closely for sure.
I am grateful to my friends and colleagues at ACA for the gracious invitation to join them and continue to think these alliances are critical for the industry as we all try to look into the crystal ball for where the future of video is heading. Couldn’t believe that I didn’t get an invitation from the Cowgirls channel to join their cast – maybe next time I hit this show, I’ll wear my boots instead of heels!