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Exclusive: Gordon Smith on his NAB legacy

Earlier this year NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith announced he would be stepping down at the end of 2021. TVBEurope caught up with Smith to reflect on his time at the organisation, and what the future holds

Why is now is the right time to step down from your role at NAB?

There are things that I have put on the back burner during my time in public office and at NAB that I want to prioritise. I have a large food processing business in Oregon that I would like to focus on. I would like to devote more time to my church. Most importantly, I have grandchildren who I look forward to doting on. 

We are fortunate to have assembled a talented team at NAB. I am stepping down from my role confident that NAB and the broadcast industry are in good hands with Curtis LeGeyt at the helm with the support of a capable staff.

How has the show changed during your time as CEO?

We have put an emphasis on delivering value to the NAB Show community year-round, both in-person and online.

Several years ago, we acquired the convention now known as NAB Show New York, which showcases a full range of next-generation technology for media and entertainment professionals in a more intimate setting. We made this acquisition with the goal of establishing and growing an NAB event for the East Coast content community, and we have been quite happy with the results.

In addition, even before the pandemic, we knew that business – including for events – was moving towards a hybrid in-person and digital model. That certainly has accelerated recently. We placed a major focus on building out our digital offerings to complement NAB Show, as well as connect and engage the NAB Show community throughout the year.

What achievement are you most proud of?

When I first joined NAB, I was alarmed to find significant disunity within the industry. We were out of sync with our priorities and messaging. Policymakers are not inclined to help an industry that is bogged down by internal squabbles.

I made it a priority to create a united front that speaks constructively in one voice. I am proud that broadcasters have bought into that message, from the grassroots level all the way up to our board of directors. Our victories over the past decade are a testament to the influence of broadcasters when we work together.

What piece of advice would you give to your successor?

From his decade of work spearheading NAB’s Capitol Hill advocacy, Curtis [LeGeyt] knows this first-hand but it is important for the entire broadcasting industry to hear: Do not take for granted that those in federal power fully understand the incredible role local television and radio play in their communities. 

Public service is ingrained in the DNA of broadcasters. Delivering lifeline news and information, connecting communities, covering breaking events, being on-air when disaster strikes; these are all hallmarks of what it means to be a broadcaster. 

Yet, sometimes our elected officials get distracted by the latest gadget or online trend. They can forget that broadcast radio and television are go-to sources for local news for their constituents, important employers in their districts and supporters of charitable causes that help people in need. Whenever broadcasters meet with their representatives, make sure they understand the enduring value of local broadcasting.

What new technology has particularly stood out to you as a game changer for the media industry?

Broadcast television is transitioning to a new transmission standard – Next Gen TV – which will be a game-changer for our industry going forward. It allows us to deliver pristine picture quality, immersive sound, interactive features, datacasting, mobile programming and innovative emergency alerting. 

The roll-out of Next Gen TV is happening in markets across the country and the next few years will be an exciting time for broadcasting with the new tools the standard will unleash.

Where do you see the industry going next?

I believe the future for consumers is a combination of broadcasting and broadband. People are cutting the cord and supplementing over-the-air television with digital services. Next Gen TV also utilises broadband to deliver many of its features and that relationship is critical to the standard’s success.

Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated the move towards a hybrid business model of in-person and remote work. This industry adapted with home studios and offices, socially distant reporting from the field, remote operations and innovative ways of storytelling. 

What has made you passionate about working in the media tech industry?

When I left the Senate, joining NAB was enticing because the calling card of a broadcaster is public service. I knew I wanted to continue giving back to my community. Broadcasting is part of the lifeblood of American democracy and giving the lion’s roar for the industry on Capitol Hill has allowed me to continue serving our nation.

As a senator, I would receive the most messages from my constituents when there was an issue affecting their television or radio. People are passionate about their local broadcast stations and the connection they provide to their communities. It has been an honour to represent the broadcast industry and ensure broadcasters everywhere are able to serve their audiences. 

How difficult was it to take the decision to cancel this year’s show?

It was an incredibly difficult decision to cancel this year’s Show. We were looking forward to hosting a world-class event that brought media, entertainment and technology professionals together again and helped us get back to doing business in-person. Ultimately, though, we were faced with insurmountable challenges that prevented us from holding an NAB Show that our exhibitors and attendees have come to expect. 

We are re-dedicating our focus towards holding an exceptional convention in Las Vegas in April 2022 and we cannot wait to share that experience with the NAB Show community.

What does it mean for you personally, as you won’t get a chance to say farewell to the industry?

I am disappointed that I won’t be able to meet with my friends, our exhibitors and our partners who help us put on NAB Show every year. I will miss taking in the sights and sounds of the Show floor and seeing the amazing innovations that are reshaping our industry. 

However, I am staying on in an advisory role for the next three years so this is not goodbye for me. I am looking forward to continuing to serve as an advocate for this great industry.

What would be your parting words to the industry?

In my NAB Show address, I was anticipating reflecting on the privilege I’ve had over the past 12 years to represent America’s local radio and television stations and having the opportunity to give the lion’s roar on behalf of broadcasting.

When I sat before the hiring committee at NAB, I was asked what it means to have the soul of a broadcaster. To me, it means a passion, a dedication and a determination to serve your local communities day-in and day-out. I want to express my sincere admiration and thanks to the countless broadcasters who I saw epitomise that ideal during my 12 years at NAB and in the many years that I was in elected office. It cannot be overstated how important broadcasting and broadcasters are for our communities and for the fabric of our democracy. 

Will we see you as a guest at next year’s Show?

I certainly anticipate being there. I will continue to be an advocate for this terrific industry and attending the marquee showcase for broadcasting is a must.