Broadcast TV industry executives who are considering swapping their broadcast spectrum for cash on Tuesday announced the formation of a new coalition to lobby in their behalf.
The coalition, whose membership roster will not be made public, is headed by Preston Padden, former Walt Disney Co. executive vice president for government relations and a longtime entertainment-industry lobbyist.
Called Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, the group’s focus will be ensuring the success of the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to use special “incentive” auctions to repurpose broadcast TV spectrum for mobile broadband.
The FCC is hoping to persuade as many of the nation’s more than 1,700 TV stations – mostly independent, religious and foreign-language broadcasters -- to either share channel space with other broadcasters or get out of broadcasting altogether.
It's expected this would sharply reduce the number of local broadcast TV stations available for viewers.
The channel space would then be auctioned off to wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon to meet the increasing demand for smartphones and other wireless communications devices.
Participation in the plan is voluntary. Broadcasters who agree to sell their rights to their channels would get a share of the auction proceeds.
“The FCC has only one shot to get it right,” Padden -- considered one of the most influential lobbyists in the entertainment industry -- said in a news release. “The coalition is dedicated to ensuring we have the rules and procedures in place to maximize the auction’s chance to succeed.”
Founding members of the coalition included TV broadcast stations that, “under the right conditions,” would like to participate in the auction, the release said.
“These are ongoing broadcast businesses with employees, advertisers and viewers,” Padden said in the release. “The need for confidentiality is obvious.”
In an interview with TheWrap, Padden said the key priorities of the coalition will be determined by the group’s executive committee. But, he added, “We’re not talking about numbers (of coalition) members at this point.”
But he did say that the group “includes broadcasters I have worked with previously.”
Currently a senior fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, Colo., Padden has been an executive for ABC and Fox and headed the Association of Independent Television Stations in the '80s.
The auctions were approved by Congress in February and are slated for 2014.
“Incentive auctions will offer significant opportunities for broadcasters -- both those that will take advantage of a once in a lifetime financial opportunity, and those that will choose to continue to be a part of a healthy and diverse broadcast marketplace," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "I welcome the participation of the new Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition in our rulemaking process as the Commission engages all stakeholders in a manner that is open, transparent and data-driven.”
“NAB will continue to engage our members, the FCC and others to develop an auction that allows volunteer broadcasters to be adequately compensated for leaving the business while holding harmless TV stations that remain on the air,” Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement .