Thursday evening the FCC released details of its proposal to OK ATSC 3.0 and retrans plays a big role. Under the proposed rules, must-carry protection would apply only to a broadcaster’s ATSC 1.0 transmission, not its new 3.0 signal, at least during the simulcasting period the FCC is planning to mandate to protect consumers during the transition. But the proposed rules also make clear that broadcasters will be free to negotiate retrans consent deals for carriage of their 3.0 programming, even during the simulcasting period.
Retrans A Key Part Of FCC’s ATSC 3.0 Plan
The FCC has announced a Nov. 16 vote on proposed rules that would authorize broadcasters to launch Next Gen ATSC 3.0 operations — and it appears that the regulations will clear the way for broadcasters to use retransmission consent negotiations to get the ball rolling.
Under the proposed rules, must-carry protection would apply only to a broadcaster’s ATSC 1.0 transmission, not its new 3.0 signal, at least during the simulcasting period the FCC is planning to mandate to protect consumers during the transition period.
But the proposed rules also make clear that broadcasters will be free to negotiate retransmission consent deals for carriage of their 3.0 programming, even during the simulcasting period.
“We decline to adopt any new rules regarding the carriage of ATSC 3.0 pursuant to retransmission consent,” the FCC says in its proposed rules. “Such carriage will be voluntary, and we find that voluntary carriage issues are best left to marketplace negotiations between broadcasters and MVPDs.”
At least according to the new voluntary standard’s proponents, 3.0, which has been in development for more than seven years, is a potential game changer for broadcasters that is designed to enable them to enhance their broadcast abilities and allow them to tap into new business opportunities.
“Next Generation TV would be the first standard to marry the advantages of broadcasting and the Internet,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a blog yesterday announcing the historic vote. “It holds the promise of delivering better video and audio, advanced emergency alerts, improved accessibility features, personalized and interactive content, and mobile television reception to American consumers.
“The bottom line is this: I want America to be at the forefront of innovation in the broadcast sector, the wireless sector, and every other sector of the communications industry,” Pai concluded.
In the interests of protecting over-the-air viewers, the proposed rules would generally require broadcasters who opt to offer 3.0 to partner with other stations in their markets to simulcast 1.0 programming.
“To ensure that viewers are protected, it is important not only to require that television broadcasters continue to broadcast in the current ATSC 1.0 standard while ATSC 3.0 is being deployed, but also that they continue to air in ATSC 1.0 format the programming that viewers most want and expect to receive,” the FCC said in its proposed rules.
“We seek to ensure that broadcasters air their most popular, widely-viewed programming on their 1.0 simulcast channels so that viewers are not forced to purchase 3.0 capable equipment simply to continue to receive this programming rather than because they find the ATSC 3.0 technology particularly attractive.”
The proposed rules would, for five years, require the programming aired on the 1.0 simulcast channel to be “substantially
similar” to the programming aired on the 3.0 channel. This means that the programming must be the same, except for programming features that are based on the enhanced capabilities of 3.0, advertisements, and promotions for upcoming programs, the FCC explained.
The FCC said it has yet to decide how long the simulcasting period should run but it envisions it as a temporary one.
The FCC also said that it would not dictate what format 1.0 simulcasts would have to be broadcast in. In other words, the simulcasts could be in SD rather than HD.
“We recognize that broadcasters may face spectrum constraints that could limit their ability to continue to provide HD programming or other enhanced formats on their 1.0 simulcast signals,” the FCC’s proposed rules said. “Because simulcasting partnerships will require that more stations share the same amount of spectrum, stations may have less capacity for HD programming.”
During its Nov. 16 meeting, the FCC also is planning to consider launching a rulemaking proceeding that could clear the way for broadcasters to use vacant channels in their markets to help them roll out 3.0.
In addition, the NPRM will seek comment on criteria the agency should use in considering requests from broadcasters for waivers from the 1.0 simulcasting requirement.
“We are inclined to consider favorably requests for waiver where the Next Gen TV station can demonstrate that it has no viable local simulcasting partner in its market and where the station agrees to make reasonable efforts to preserve 1.0 service to existing viewers in its community of license and/or otherwise minimize the impact on such viewers (for example, by providing free or low cost ATSC 3.0 converters to viewers),” the FCC said in its proposed rules.
The FCC’s proposed rules also conclude that a Next Gen TV tuner mandate is not necessary.
In a statement, Gordon Smith, NAB president-CEO, said: “NAB thanks Chairman Pai and FCC staff for supporting a new, voluntary transmission standard for broadcast television. Next Gen TV will reinvent free and local TV, offering tens of millions of viewers ultra HDTV, live and local broadcasting on mobile devices, emergency alerting that will save lives, and targeted advertising that will grow U.S. jobs and commerce.
“Notably, a transition to Next Gen TV requires broadcasters to use no additional spectrum. Just as American broadcasters led the world in a a consumer stampede to high definition television two decades ago, we are ready to usher in a new era of broadcasting that will be pro-consumer and pro-innovation. NAB thanks the bold vision and tireless work of countless broadcast engineers and consumer electronics advocates involved in the ATSC process. We look forward to working with the FCC to ensure that broadcasters have maximum flexibility to bring the historic benefits of Next Gen TV to consumers.”
Jerald Fritz, EVP of ONE Media, a unit of Sinclair Broadcast Group, said the FCC’s proposed rules were a win for consumers, a major advancement for broadcasters, and a “powerful jolt for competition.”
“Viewers will greatly benefit from access to free-mobile television, spectacular quality enhancements, programming targeted to their unique needs and enhanced emergency information available nowhere else,” Fritz said. “And broadcasters now have a data pipe that can bolster their competitive positions against other media and provide a host of new competitive business opportunities.”
“Without a second channel to speed deployment, the commission has fashioned a voluntary path where no consumer will need to purchase new equipment unless he or she wants to — retaining what is available today,” Fritz continued.
“But the commission also builds incentives for broadcasters to entice consumers with new programming, services and equipment if they want it. That’s a clear consumer and regulatory win without the imposition of heavy-handed regulation.”
Pearl TV, the consortium of broadcast groups that’s pushing for mobile DTV, applauded the FCC’s decision. The group’s managing director, Anne Schelle, said in a statement: “When the FCC votes to permit broadcast of next-generation ATSC 3.0 technology, it will be a clear win for the American public, which will gain an innovative new television future.
“This vote will be an affirmation of the potential for local, over-the-air broadcasters to serve as an innovation platform for the future as they continue to develop new ways to serve their communities. The expansive capabilities of ATSC 3.0 to provide enhanced emergency alerting, IP-based broadcasts that can work with Internet-delivered content, and a more flexible broadcast standard will be the foundation for new investments that will benefit local communities, broadcasters, and advertisers alike.
“The draft decision by the FCC to permit ATSC 3.0 transmission is both a turning point and a terrific opportunity for consumers as well as local stations,” Schelle said.