High Definition TV Focus of NAB
Hundt Comments on Public Interest Obligations

Nearly 100,000 broadcast industry professionals jammed the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Exposition Center at NAB '97. A victory in the "must carry" rule, FCC approval of High Definition TV (HDTV), discussions of the Children's Television Act, convergence between TV and personal computers, and the public obligations of broadcasters were all addressed at workshops, seminars and speeches.

The topic on everyone's lips was HDTV, which will be available in the top ten viewing markets (roughly 30 percent of TV households) by Christmas '98, and the top 30 markets reaching about half of TV households by Christmas '99.

A key requirement for obtaining digital licenses is they will come with a "public interest" obligation, According to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt who set the tone for the conference in his opening remarks April 8th.

No amount of competition should be allowed to compete away public interest obligations," Hundt said, and he went on to observe that the market place was driving broadcasters away from airing a sufficient level of educational TV aimed at children. "That's why we needed fair, clear rules which would ensure that everyone did a minimal amount, instead of vague rules which would allow some to do none while others carried all the load for the broadcast industry,".

"The same market forces are at work in the decreasing amount of time broadcasters are devoting to PSAs," Hundt went on to say. "A couple of weeks ago I expressed concern that the number and duration of PSAs was going down and suggested that part of the reason for this was the dramatic rise in self-promotional advertising broadcasters are doing. It seems to me this is a trend that should worry all of us, but especially those broadcasters that want to run PSAs to serve their community."

Hundt said that the broadcast community should decide whether its strategy should be to defend the rights of the few who do not want to serve as public trustees and who want to maximize profits, or seek solutions to ensure that broadcasters act as public trustees. "Very soon, the Commission will issue a Notice that will allow us to begin considering these public interest obligations in an increasingly complex and digital marketplace," Hundt concluded.