The association’s chief technologist unveils a board-approved initiative to bring new broadcasting technologies to the marketplace. Would you like a laptop with a built-in DTV tuner and antenna?
The National Association of Broadcasters is launching what it calls a technology advocacy program to promote technologies that could improve broadcasting—TV and radio—or lead to new over-the-air services and businesses.
Leading the effort will be the NAB’s chief technologist Lynn Claudy.
In this first of two edited interviews with TVNewsCheck, Claudy discusses technology advocacy and how NAB’s initiative could speed the introduction of laptops with built-in DTV antennas and tuners, interactive broadcasting, smart antennas and much more.
How did this technology advocacy program come about?
It goes back to discussions at our board about a year ago. The board formed a technology advocacy committee and that committee has done a lot of work with technical consultants and economists. After several meetings, they determined that there is a place for NAB to do something that isn’t getting done.
So, at the January board meeting, the board decided that it wanted to be in this business by leveraging existing resources and existing NAB staff and membership.
It’s a question of months now before the final organizational structure is put into place, but there has been a commitment of funding that will allow a fairly robust launch to take place.
We’re taking it one step at a time. We’re not trying to overreach or to create something that can’t be achieved. So, it’s more a change in direction or an additional direction than it is revolutionary.
Explain the concept of technology advocacy and what you hope it will achieve.
We’ve developed a lot of technical standards work in the industry, but there’s been little deployment of new services. That’s not because the technology doesn’t work. It’s because of these kinds of chicken-and-egg problems. Just because you have a technical standard that says that you can do something doesn’t mean you have a guarantee of success. It’s risky. We have an industry based on access to a mass market, but it’s hard to make changes in a mass market where there are all these stakeholders.
Our board looked at that and said, well maybe what you need is an intermediary here, not someone to start a facilities-based laboratory and not a whole new staff of scientists and engineers, but an organization that can effectively bridge the gap between technology and markets.
That might involve just answering questions from people who aren’t in the same business. Or, it could be an interfacing role—facilitating meetings with stakeholders—or it could be providing seed money for development of applications where the basic technology is already developed.
Many broadcasters have things going on with getting their services on the Internet, for instance. Where we really need to concentrate and where there isn’t a lot of work going on is exploiting the over-the-air transmission medium. That goes for both radio and television.
Manufacturers may be interested in that, but they have a lot of other peripheral interests where they can make money. So, if anyone’s going to care about broadcasting, it should be broadcasters.
Will you be looking at developing new technology?
There will be no development ideas coming out of NAB. We just want to get smart interested people in the industry to work with other smart people in the industry and to be able to promote that and make those opportunities available for the marketplace. It’s really all about leverage, not about control.
So, will you will consider a bunch of different things and decide which one you want to push?
Yes probably several simultaneously.
Could you give me an example of something this program might pursue in TV?
We went through a technology discovery process with technical committees and looked at a whole bunch of opportunities. For instance, what would it take to get DTV reception capability on the motherboard of laptop computers?
Well, I’ve seen those DTV receivers that look like flash drives and plug into the USB ports of laptops.
Right. It’s easy to make those things, but people don’t really buy them. Look at the history of Wi-Fi in laptops. First, you had plug-in cards, but, once you started putting Wi-Fi into laptop computers, suddenly they’re ubiquitous, suddenly there are more hot spots and suddenly people are interested in providing Wi-Fi service.
We were talking to some laptop manufacturers and they were saying they have like five or six antennas in their case by the time you get through with Wi-Fi and then Bluetooth and infrared.
There’s a bunch of stuff in laptops now for wireless communication of various sorts and there’s no reason that over-the-air digital transmission wouldn’t fit in there too.
Can you give me a couple more examples? Integrating DTV receiver into laptops dovetails with the work that’s been going on in mobile broadcasting via DTV. Is that on your agenda?
Yes. Certainly. Doing some work to prove out mobile broadcasting is an obvious area and there are already people working on that. So, in some cases, this is joining the crowd and just adding momentum to the push.
Another area would be trying to find commercial interests in the smart antennas. We have been extremely impressed with what you can do when you do these intelligent antennas that talk to DTV receiver configurations.
The response from the industry to the smart antenna, even though it has been standardized for a while, has been rather lackadaisical. Perhaps, with some motivation and some incentives and getting the right people together and fostering an understanding of the benefits, we can move it forward.
One more idea.
Interactive broadcasting is the one that always comes up. You probably know, there’s an interactive television standard for over the air through ATSC called ACAP and it’s finally getting some public demonstrations. It was demonstrated out in the West Coast about a month ago.
How does that work? How do you have a two-way application in a one-way medium like broadcasting?
The way that ACAP is likely to be deployed is in a one-way mode where you’re downloading a lot of information. For example, during the news, you’re downloading all this information as it happens. A viewer could then, by pushing a button, get a menu that says: “Do you want the current weather, do you want the school closings, do you want the traffic on 95″—information has had already been dumped down into storage in a receiver.
So it’s pseudo-interactivity? I mean, what you’re really interacting with it content stored in the receiver.
Right. But ACAP also has interactive modes in case you did have a return channel, either by phone line, reverse cable or a cell phone. Or, let’s use the example of the laptop TV where you have a Wi-Fi connection. You could exploit the fact that you had a return channel back to a Web site.
Return-path interactivity is usually referred to as transactional interactivity where you can hit a vote button or you can hit a pay button or you can actually do e-commerce or t-commerce kinds of things.
Will you have an advisory board or a board of directors that determines what technology you’re going to advocate?
Those are the details that are being worked. We do have that technology advocacy committee of the board, but there’ll be some other structures so that the decisions on what projects to pursue can be done efficiently and don’t have to wait through the usual board meeting cycles. Yet, there will be enough oversight from the board so that everyone is kept to a reasonable standard of responsibility.
Who’s the chairman of the board committee?
It’s a co-chaired committee—one person from radio and one person from television. The TV chair is Ed Munson from LIN TV and the radio chair is Susan Austin from Sheridan Broadcasting.
This initiative is sort of a lite version of a broadcast lab.
I might not put it that way, but that’s kind of what it is. The appetite for doing a broadcast lab has kind of lessened. It’s very difficult and expensive to put together—leases on buildings and 401-k plans for staff and all that sort of stuff.
I have to say I like the idea of popping open my laptop as I wait for a plane in the Newark airport and watching the local New York stations.
Yeah, instead of being held hostage to CNN.