Tom Wheeler urged broadcasters to get behind the incentive auctions. (Image Source: AP)FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Monday urged a gathering of broadcasters to embrace the changing content ecosystem and asked them to view the upcoming incentive auctions as an opportunity.

Speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB) annual conference, Wheeler directly refuted the idea that the government was conspiring against broadcasters to give wireless players like AT&T and Verizon preferential treatment when it comes to spectrum. He also stressed that broadcasters will not be forced to participate in the incentive auctions.

"Those who want to participate can. Those who choose not to participate, that’s fine as well. You will have the ability to determine for yourself if you want to participate," Wheeler said.

While trumpeting CTIA's recent testing of spectrum channel sharing, Wheeler also cautioned that the incentive auction was an opportunity that would not come along again.

"Channel sharing will allow you to remain on the air, maintain must-carry status if you are a must-carry station, and have a new source of capital that doesn’t dilute your ownership," Wheeler said, adding, "I caution, however, that the Incentive Auction opportunity is not likely to come again anytime soon. While legally we could hold another auction, realistically I’m not as sure."

But Wheeler also wanted broadcasters to know he sees the industry at an inflection point, where the old model of over-the-air broadcasting is by necessity being forced to evolve. He told attendees that broadcasting is positioned perfectly to move from "being the disrupted, to being the disruptor."

Championing a hybrid fixed and mobile-delivered cable-like service, Wheeler suggested broadcasters possess the resources to produce the most compelling content on the market, as well as the means to promote it.

Wheeler's remarks come as traditional broadcasters warily eye the FCC for clarity and transparency on just of exactly the incentive auctions will work.

At the recent CCA Expo, Rick Kaplan, executive vice president of strategic planning for NAB, said he's worried that broadcasters still need assurances from the FCC around how the upcoming incentive auctions will work.


"One challenge is you want to be able to trust what you hear from the Commission," Kaplan said, adding that broadcasters may think twice before putting their airwaves on the block without assurances that the FCC's rules for the auction won't be changed halfway through the process.