The lawyer and former tech executive John Hane is a solid choice to lead Sinclair and Nexstar’s new Spectrum Co. He knows spectrum, he understands business and he clearly shares those groups’ passion for the non-broadcast potential of spectrum once enhanced and amplified by ATSC 3.0.
Sinclair and Nexstar took a significant step forward this week in their determination to develop non-broadcast datacasting businesses on top of the new ATSC 3.0-based broadcasting platform they are committed to building.
They hired communications attorney John Hane to run the joint venture they created for the purpose. Starting next week, Hane will be president of what they are calling Spectrum Co.
I spoke with Hane yesterday and found him eager to wrap up his affairs at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and get to work at Spectrum extending broadcasting beyond delivering TV shows to the masses and into other money-making ventures.
“I feel very confident I can connect the dots and get this ATSC 3.0 network — or series of networks — developed, integrated and articulated in a way that will be attractive to the kinds of businesses that we may want to build for ourselves or that others may want to build.”
Sinclair has been among Hane’s clients so he is well acquainted with its thinking on 3.0 and on its non-broadcast uses, and he comes to the job with ideas of his own on what might be done.
But like Sinclair he is not ready to talk specifics. Some of ideas are proprietary, he says, and none have been fully analyzed and modeled to see if they make sense. Such scrutiny will be a big part of his job, he says.
Speaking broadly, Hane sees great opportunity in automotive. As cars do more and more of their own thinking and driving, their demands for fresh data will grow commensurately, he says. “It’s a huge market and we are at the very beginning of it.”
Other categories he will be exploring: authentication, encryption and data security; utilities; railroads and other public transportation; the Internet of Things; and government.
And, of course, there is media. “With 3.0, which is really, really powerful, we will have the opportunity to look at other media distribution models,” he says.
Under the media heading would come such things as subscription-based multichannel services such as OTT-based Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now. “We should never be dismissive of the video market,” he says. “It’s enormous.”
There is no lack of ideas, Hane says. The trick is to identify and pursue the “highest and best.”
Another part Hane’s job is aggregating spectrum, upon which all ultimately depends, by persuading other broadcasters to join the venture or at least lease spectrum to it. “Nobody has been doing this in a fulltime, formal way.”
Right now, the company comprises just Sinclair and Nexstar. But at least one other is in the wings. According to Hane, Univision has agreed to contribute “financial and operational resources” to Spectrum’s planned 3.0 datacasting trial with a signal-boosting single frequency network in Dallas.
Between Sinclair and Nexstar, the company has a footprint that covers most of the country and enough spectrum to get started. “Obviously, as you add more spectrum and more spectrum in each market the opportunity gets a lot bigger,” he says.
Winning over other broadcasters will not be easy. Other 3.0 proponents, operating mostly under the aegis of the Pearl TV consortium, are focusing on using 3.0 to enhance their existing services — 4K, immersive audio and interactive and targeted advertising.
They have already considered datacasting and found it wanting.
Hane is undaunted.
“Nobody disputes that ATSC 3.0 is going to enormously improve the core business and make it vastly more attractive and usable to consumers and more competitive with other video distribution.”
But the other broadcasters have not been properly educated about datacasting, he says. “There hasn’t been anybody available to explain in a deliberate way what can be done, what the costs are, what the benefits and why it is entirely consistent with their core business.”
Because of his legal and regulatory work on behalf of Sinclair, Hane had an inside track on the job. But I’m told that to get it he had to survive an intensive executive search process led by an outside recruitment firm.
For the past 11 years, Hane has been representing clients on all sorts of matters before the FCC, including the incentive auction, OTT distribution, TV everywhere, retransmission consent, wireless communications and copyright.
Earlier in his career, he served as a Washington regulatory rep for NBC, the defunct station group New World Communications and Lockheed Martin.
He is more than a lawyer. Over the years, he has accumulated considerable experience in business development and operations as an executive for Pegasus Communications, which developed a satellite-to-home broadband service, and as CEO of Highcast Networks, a pioneer in digital ad insertion technology.
Spectrum Co. is, by all measures, a nascent operation, not much more than some contracts and memos of understanding. When Hane sets up shop (probably in the building in the close-in Washington suburb of Arlington, Va., that also houses Sinclair’s ABC affiliate WJLA), he will not only be the top employee, he will be the only employee.
That will soon change. Hane plans to bring on “engineers, project managers, financial managers and “people who know how to analyze wireless network and model out wireless business and create accessible presentations for others and potential customers.”
Another reason, I think, that Hane got the job is that he clearly shares Sinclair’s passion for the non-broadcast potential of spectrum once enhanced and amplified by 3.0.
“There is no more spectrum to take away,” he says. “The FCC and the wireless carriers are going to have to accept that they have gone to the well for the last time in the spectrum auction.
“Now it’s up to broadcasters to make the best use possible of the spectrum that is allocated to them — UHF and VHF. It’s an enormous amount of terrific spectrum that because of the [current] technical standard has been completely underutilized.
“This is a much bigger change than the change from analog to digital, where we replicated the business model, the coverage and the services, only with better pictures and sound.
“That was incremental. This is transformative.”