Use your spectrum or possibly lose it is the message to broadcasters from Spectrum Co. chief John Hane at today’s ATSC Next-Gen TV Conference in Washington. Hane warned: “We don’t have to [move to ATSC 3.0] today, but we have to show a willingness and a capability to do it [soon]. Then we can prevent Microsoft and the wireless carriers from packing us in tighter.”
Broadcasters need to quickly “push ATSC 3.0 into the market in a big way” in order to stave off competitors who would like to see the FCC reclaim even more of broadcasters’ UHF spectrum, said Spectrum Co. President John Hane Thursday at the ATSC Next-Gen TV Conference in Washington, D.C.
“It may just be a bad dream I keep having, but does it seem to anyone else like every 10 years or so we lose a really big chunk of spectrum?” quipped Hane. “I remember when the line went up above [ch.] 51…oh wait, now it’s 36.”
While the service that broadcasters provide with their spectrum is valuable, they “occupy too much spectrum to provide it,” said Hane, who heads the joint venture founded by Sinclair and Nexstar to exploit the ATSC 3.0 standard. So while the new services enabled by ATSC 3.0, such as mobile TV and targeted advertising, hold the promise of additional revenues, he said, there is a more pressing reason to move fast.
“We have to use this spectrum much more intensely,” said Hane. “We don’t have to do it today, but we have to show a willingness and a capability to do it. Then we can prevent Microsoft and the wireless carriers from packing us in tighter.”
Spectrum Co.’s pitch is to join the consortium so that stations can pool spectrum and financial resources to create a “seamless nationwide network” that can explore new markets. That might be delivering data to Internet of Things (IoT) devices or media to autonomous vehicles, two big opportunities Hane identified Thursday.
While the consortium’s long-term vision is to create a nationwide single-frequency-network (SFN) architecture to transmit ATSC 3.0, a concept Sinclair is currently testing in Dallas, broadcasters don’t necessarily need to launch with SFNs but can instead “fill in” coverage gaps later.
“If we’re successful in driving new revenues and services, we can easily justify the costs of supplementing with SFNs,” said Hane.
Hane wasn’t the only speaker at the ATSC conference urging broadcasters to get rolling on ATSC 3.0. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly paid the ATSC membership a surprise visit to help celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Grand Alliance, the technology consortium behind the original HDTV standard headed by former FCC Chairman Dick Wiley, and described his visit last week to Pearl’s ATSC 3.0 model market project in Phoenix.
O’Rielly said he made a point of visiting Phoenix because the effort there is focused on the consumer experience of 3.0. He touted the flexibility of the standard, and said he was particularly impressed by its mobile TV reception as well as the advanced audio capabilities, such as seamless switching between multiple languages. But he also said broadcasters need to move quickly, mainly to keep pace with their digital competitors.
“If I had one concern, it’s that the entire process could take too long,” said O’Rielly. “Television broadcasters are under enormous pressure, right now, right here. The high-tech companies who broadcasters compete with daily for advertisers and consumer attention are not going to stop and wait for ATSC 3.0 to be fully deployed. They’re going to continue to eat market share as the market allows them to do so.”
O’Rielly told a story from a recent visit to a small rural radio station, which said that a local car dealer used to get five or six competing pitches for its advertisers during a sales cycle. During the last cycle, it entertained 84 discreet pitches due to the explosion in digital outlets.
“I’m sure that’s not being factored into the Department of Justice’s 1970s market analysis,” O’Rielly quipped. “But it’s real, it’s happening in the market today. Time is not necessarily a luxury for everyone. If broadcasters are sitting on the fence with ATSC 3.0, they should be worried the fence will no longer exist, if you take too long to decide.”