Broadcasters have different ideas on how best to proceed with ATSC 3.0. Some advocate an initial rollout of 4K Ultra-HD programming followed by a gradual move into targeted advertising. Another faction touts the near-term potential of a nationwide datacasting business that will first seek B-to-B customers like auto makers and content delivery networks. In any event, 2018 will be crucial.
NEW YORK — The next-generation ATSC 3.0 digital television system is much closer to reality than it was at the last NAB New York show in November 2016, with the possibility of the proposed standard being approved by the FCC by early January 2018 and 3.0 transmission gear being purchased by stations soon after.
But broadcasters appear to be no closer to a consensus on the first business model to roll out for the next-gen system, which will give stations the ability to transmit more bits, reach mobile devices and deliver IP-based services such as addressable advertising.
Broadcasters and industry consultants speaking Wednesday at the TVNewsCheck’s TV2020 conference at NAB New York presented competing visions of the best early use-case of ATSC 3.0. In the panel “ATSC 3.0 Opportunities” moderated by TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell, one side advocated an initial rollout of 4K Ultra-HD programming followed by a gradual move into targeted advertising. Another faction touted the near-term potential of a nationwide datacasting business that will first seek B-to-B customers like auto makers and content delivery networks.
These competing views could make for a bumpy 2018 for ATSC 3.0, which Jessell declared as the “time for the industry to shut up or put up. 2018 is the year broadcasters have to spend real money and have real plans to show the FCC progress.”
If they’re lucky, broadcasters will start the new year with an approved standard in hand, said Jerald Fritz, EVP of strategic and legal affairs for ONE Media, a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and vendor Coherent Logix that has been developing ATSC 3.0 technology. Fritz is hopeful that a vote on the proposed standard will make the agenda for the FCC’s Nov. 16 meeting. A successful vote could make the new rules effective in January, with 3.0 translators then being rolled out in conjunction with the spectrum repack over the next 36 months.
“I sort of feel like an expectant parent,” said Fritz.
Fritz forecasts the FCC will approve a voluntary deployment of 3.0, with no second channel provided to stations, so some form of host/tenant arrangement will be needed among stations in a market. He also expects some form of ATSC 1.0 simulcasting requirement, no changes on broadcasters’ obligations to MPVDs or the public interest; no changes to retransmission consent; and no mandate to include ATSC 3.0 tuners in new TV sets or other consumer devices.
“We’re hoping for a 5-0 vote to move the platform from the plateau it’s currently on to this tremendous upside potential,” Fritz said.
Sinclair, along with Nexstar, Northwest Broadcasting and other groups to come, will then begin deploying 3.0 single-frequency network (SFN) transmission systems to provide a full CONUS footprint for wireless data delivery. With the 3.0 system yielding 25 Mbps in a station’s existing 6 MHz pipe and only 4 Mbps needed for HD, said Fritz, “there are a lot of things we can do.”
The first one appears to be datacasting, as Fritz described a nationwide data service that could help content delivery networks like Akamai and OTT players like Netflix deliver content to local servers for quicker online streaming to consumers. He said the One Media partners also planned to help automobile manufacturers like General Motors as they roll out autonomous (self-driving) cars, and that they had already done trials with GM in Michigan.
“What do they need more than anything else?” asked Fritz. “They need immense amounts of data to do 3D mapping.”
While Fritz was bullish on 3.0 datacasting, a very different picture was presented by Sandi Kozsuch, principal, strategic and industry initiatives for Cox Media Group and chairman of the PearlTV advanced TV consortium, which includes Cox, E.W. Scripps, Graham Media Group, Hearst Television, Meredith Local Media Group, Nexstar Media Group, Raycom Media and Tegna.
Kozsuch said that launching enhancements to “the core TV service” with 4K and targeted advertising should be the priority for 3.0, based on two different research studies PearlTV had commissioned from Magid.
“Those are the first two things we can focus on and get launched to consumers,” said Kozsuch. “After that will be automobiles and mobility.”
Kozsuch’s point of view was echoed by Mike Chapman, managing director for Accenture Strategy, who said that providing 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) programming would be the “most attractive” first model for 3.0, particularly as Apple and other streaming players “democratize” 4K content.
“The monetization of that becomes a little tougher, but it gives the ability to bring you to parity,” said Chapman. “That’s the best-use case from a broadcaster perspective, with the economics really targeted in programmatic advertising.”
Chapman noted that the ability to purchase targeted advertising with better measurement had been cited by media buyers in an earlier TV2020 panel.
“What we tend to see is when the dollars shift [to digital], they become hard to get back,” Chapman said. “When you cannot buy in the same way as other mediums, it becomes harder to capture those dollars. So that’s probably the biggest ROI case for broadcasting.”
That said, Chapman figured that a large-scale rollout of targeted advertising would be on a “longer-term roadmap,” probably three to five years from now.
FTI Consulting Senior Adviser Mary Ann Halford, who had previously done research on the ATSC 3.0 opportunity for PearlTV, said the three key areas she identified were an improved TV experience with 4K, potential pay-TV services via conditional access and advanced advertising.
“I think ATSC 3.0 gives broadcasters an incredible opportunity to hold the line and become offensive, not defensive, against the other incumbent players,” she said.
Halford seemed dismissive of the datacasting business that Fritz proposed, questioning whether broadcasters would have enough capacity to simulcast and do datacasting during a 3.0 transition that could take seven to 10 years. She also said that 3.0 datacasting would face strong competition from 5G and other new wireless technologies.
And Kozsuch said that while broadcasters might be able to do datacasting three to five years from now, he said the potential of working with automakers is “more midterm” and would only represent a window of a few years, after which most map data would have been delivered.
Fritz countered that the “length of time to deploy a service should not be the driving criteria, it should be the business case behind it.” Regardless, he said that by 2020 the One Media consortium will be “lined up to do a data dump.”
More important, he reminded the audience that the original driver behind 3.0 development was achieving mobile DTV reception capability, something ATSC 1.0 couldn’t do.
“We can’t forget this is a mobile-first standard,” said Fritz. “When we adopted the first DTV standard, we abandoned mobility and gave it away to the phone companies because nobody thought we would watch TV on our smartphones. We don’t know what all the apps are, we just want to deploy the infrastructure.”
The one thing all the panelists seem to agree on is that it would be great if 3.0 was used to create better emergency alerting systems, particularly if such a system prompted the government to ask for 3.0 tuner chips to be included in smartphones. On that note, the panel included a presentation by John Lawson, executive director of the Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) Alliance, an industry group that has created an advanced alert system for smartphones, tablets and smart TVs that can deliver graphics, pictures and maps as well as clickable links.
“America has a very fragmented and fragile alerting system that is not really emblematic of a great nation,” said Lawson, who pointed to the failures of wireless alerts in the recent wildfires in California and the devastating fire in Gatlinburg, Tenn., last year. He added that on the day after Hurricane Irma, 80% of key cell sites in Florida were down, while only one full-power station was not functioning. He said that AWARN is launching technology development of a beta alert solution for 3.0, and that the FCC is paying close attention.
“We believe advanced alerting could be one of the key drivers for getting ATSC 3.0 signals onto mobile devices,” he said.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2017 news here.