The NAB recently announced formation of a technology advocacy program called FASTROAD, which, if nothing else, could be a finalist in a competition for acronym design: Flexible Advanced Services for Television and Radio On All Devices.
Its stated mission is “to seek and facilitate development and commercialization of new technologies that can be exploited by broadcasters using radio and television broadcast spectrum.” NAB apparently has earmarked millions from its war chest to the project, which will select and invest in creation of new media services for implementation by local broadcasters over several years.
This clearly is the work of a reinvigorated NAB as it and some well-chosen partners — NPR Labs and the Association for Maximum Service Television — attempt to help broadcasters remain relevant in the digital age and break free of their rust-belt legacies. We applaud the effort, in particular the emphasis on localized services, which remain the unique strength of terrestrial broadcasters.
It does give us pause, however, to consider that such services are not being naturally developed as a matter of course in the commercial broadcast marketplace’s evolution and instead require proactive stimulation from a trade association.
While this seeding approach may be common in the non-profit or government space — where missions and budgets do not typically allow speculative investments — in today’s commercial media environment such innovation routinely is proposed by forward-thinking “incumbents” using their own development funds, or by startups powered with venture capital.
The very fact that broadcasters’ own advocacy group concludes that it must take this action is a tacit acknowledgement of the industry’s unfamiliarity and possible vulnerability in this area.
We hope FASTROAD will kick-start old-school broadcasters into learning how to best apply their new digital delivery mechanisms. We also hope the process doesn’t go the way of many such bodies and end up as a lot of nice words on paper, or the funding of interesting research projects, and nothing more. FASTROAD is a good idea, but to reach its stated goal, broadcasters will have to take this spark and add their own fuel if they have any hopes of riding the digital highway for the long haul.