Sinclair and its ONE Media innovations group announced key deals with Harmon and Korea’s SK Telecom at CES this week to jointly develop and commercialize broadcasting-based automotive technology using the ATSC 3.0 standard. “The whole vehicular space is one that is increasingly connected,” says Sinclair’s Mark Aitken.
LAS VEGAS — ATSC 3.0 may be all but absent from the show floor at CES this year, but from a suite at the Wynn here, Sinclair was doing its best to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Mark Aitken, VP of advanced technology at the Sinclair Television Group and president of its ONE Media innovations group, was taking a string of meetings with a litany of potential partners for its own 3.0 chip.
Without divulging specific companies, Aitken said he had met with all of the leading television manufacturers; the largest second tier consumer electronics manufacturer; broadcasters including PBS; the NAB; rival 3.0 consortium the Pearl Group; various consortia around the SFN build out; and dongle manufacturers.
Aitken is all too aware that “last year at this show you had … the CTA, NAB and ATSC declare 3.0 is the future,” he said, while this year all of that buzz has been swept away by 8k, 5G and autonomous cars.
So what happened?
“You have a total of five experimental stations on the air,” Aitken said. “The ATSC standard for the United States is still being buttoned up. There has yet to be a clear meeting of the minds between broadcasters, network affiliation operators and Hollywood.”
Lacking a definition of universal content production and conditional access, he added, no manufacturer is going to build a product around such an ill-defined space.
Which isn’t to say CES has been a wash for Sinclair’s ATSC 3.0 ambitions. On Wednesday, the company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Korean partner SK Telcom and Samsung-owned Harmon to jointly develop and commercialize broadcasting-based automotive electronics technology.
The MoU has the three new partners collaborating on ATSC 3.0 to enable drivers to experience in-car terrestrial HD broadcasting, secure firmware updates, HD map updates and V2X certificate management through terrestrial digital broadcasting facilities operated by Sinclair.
Aitken sees the automotive front as a pivotal one for 3.0. That has become especially evident as cars inch closer to the autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies shown increasingly in evidence at CES.
“The whole vehicular space is one that is increasingly connected,” he said.
So what does all this mean in a practical sense?
At one level, it comes down to a lot of short-field communications. Someone jams on the brakes and the braking action isn’t just transmitted to the car behind’s early detection system but also to the car behind that and so on, the goal being to head off a cascading set of delays.
The technology enables a uniform distribution of information affecting all of the vehicles in an area, information that could be especially vital in an autonomous environment that needs acute awareness of all traffic conditions. This, in turn, begins to offer an extended view of how traffic might be managed.
Every vehicle in this paradigm needs to be a secure channel with its own key, and Aitken said that broadcast television offers the solution here. The broadcast spectrum is used for the data distribution of an entire set of secure keys.
All of which sounds a long way from TV, and Aitken said that’s the point.
“It’s a whole different business,” he said. “This is layered on top of television. In the future, we want to be able to provide the best and most economical way of impacting the telecommunications network but be able to extract the best value for the resource.”
It’s all about extracting the maximum value for the broadcast bit, and Sinclair wants to close the gap it has with non-broadcast competitors there. For instance, Aitken said, $2 per gigabyte is the lowest commercial rate that Google charges for access to capacity in a unicast model. Broadcast is closer to .0004 cents a gigabyte for what it delivers.
“That’s a huge difference in value,” he said. “All we’ve got to do is move one decimal point in that value of the bits that we provide and you have a tenfold increase in the revenue opportunity.”
While Sinclair works up ATSC 3.0’s prospects on the automotive front, it’s also gearing up for a 26-city rollout of the technology this year. Later this month, Aitken said the company will announce which markets will be part of that footprint and the phasing involved.
That rollout, the launch of beta services in some areas of the U.S. and resolving the issue of content protection will all be integral in kicking the ATSC 3.0 ball forward, Aitken said. That, in turn, will usher in a set of gateway devices like dongles.
“And when those things happen, you will end up with a clear vision on the part of the TV set manufacturers,” he said.
Read more CES 2019 coverage here.