With the FCC poised to approve the use of the new broadcast standard tomorrow, One Media EVP Jerry Fritz takes on the critics of the standard and the “horror stories” they tell about its impact on consumers and MVPDs.
It’s that strange time. The period between release of a draft of a proposed FCC action and the actual commission vote. It’s when all manner of scare tactics and last-ditch efforts to influence votes are on display. Many involve purveying outlandish horror stories in support of bizarre narratives. So, now’s an excellent time to puncture the most outrageous myths surrounding the upcoming vote to authorize Next Gen TV or ATSC 3.0. Facts are powerful things.
MYTH 1: TV viewers will lose access to their favorite 1.0 programs. To accept this canard would mean that broadcasters, their shareholders, financial lenders, and the entire advertising industry would abandon billions and billions of dollars in ongoing revenues and crater their companies for the promise of better TV on the horizon. That’s just silly. Broadcasters have every incentive to maintain relationships with their current viewers. No one — but no one — is going to be substituting high school football for the Super Bowl. That would be economic suicide. And no viewer will need to buy new receive devices to view current programming unless they want to upgrade to devices with new features. Think cell phone upgrades. And with free mobile reception on the horizon, we expect just that while non-adopters will continue to view their programs as they do today.
MYTH 2: Current high-definition programming will be abandoned. Without a second channel to facilitate the move to the Next Gen standard, broadcasters have devised a creative, channel-sharing plan to offer expanded opportunities to viewers. Mandating specific formats that halt that process has the effect of freezing technology to only what is available today. Why in the world would we or the government limit innovation? Oh, right. It protects the MVPD distribution bottleneck. That’s a particularly craven argument and creates the environment for a two-tier TV world, one where the economically disadvantaged are stuck in a 1.0 world. See No. 1, above.
MYTH 3: The Next Gen Standard is all about Sinclair’s “many, many” patents. There are close to 9,500 patents/applications that have been publicly disclosed to the ATSC related to the new standard. Sinclair/One Media has … 12 of them. That’s right, 12. That’s 0.13% of all ATSC 3.0-related patents — an absurdly thin motivation for unleashing an entire industry from its 20-year shackles. The business upside for Next Gen TV simply dwarfs by orders of magnitude any possible patent royalties that Sinclair might realize from this non-mandated standard deployment. And it is a standard supported by the entire broadcast and consumer manufacturing industries.
MYTH 4: Cable rates will skyrocket as broadcasters force ATSC 3.0 on MVPDs in retrans negotiations. To be quite clear, MVPDs will continue to receive ATSC 1.0 programming (mostly via fiber feeds) just as they do today and no system will be required to reconfigure its distribution plant — unless it wants to. The video and audio quality of Next Gen TV is spectacular. It will be available for all to witness in Korea during the Winter Olympics in just three months. Once deployed in the U.S., it is the MVPDs which will likely be clamoring for the broadcasters’ Next Gen signals, not the other way around. It will be fascinating to see how MVPDs press for access to the superior Next Gen signals. Watch to see whether that isn’t one of their new demands from broadcasters.
All in all, innovation is about to be unleashed to the benefit of viewers, broadcasters and competition in general. Myths notwithstanding.
Jerald Fritz is One Media’s EVP for strategic and legal affairs and plays a key role in shaping One Media’s next generation broadcast platform. Co-owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix, One Media helped develop the ATSC 3.0 standard and is now pioneering business applications for it.