Sinclair Joins NextGen TV’s Pearl Group

Sinclair Broadcast Group is the latest station group and ATSC 3.0 proponent to join the Pearl TV consortium. Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley: “Since the rubber is really going to hit the road here this year, it just made sense to join Pearl and speak … with one industry voice. I think it will speed up the rollout and the ultimate adoption of NextGen TV.”

Broadcasters’ efforts to roll out ATSC 3.0 — NextGen TV — has been hampered by Pearl TV and the Sinclair Broadcast Group not always seeing eye to eye on the implementation of the standard and the services it enables.

That should be less of a problem going forward.

Pearl announced this morning that Sinclair has become a full-fledged member, joining Cox Media Group, Graham Media Group, Gray Television, Hearst Television, Meredith Local Media Group, Nexstar Media, the E.W. Scripps Co. and Tegna Inc.

With Sinclair on board, the Pearl station count swells to more than 750 stations, including most Big Four affiliates.

“We saw the great progress that Pearl had been making with the consumer electronics manufacturers, the MVPDs and the networks,” said Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley, in an embargoed interview prior to announcement. “Since the rubber is really going to hit the road here this year, it just made sense to join Pearl and speak … with one industry voice. So, I think it will speed up the rollout and the ultimate adoption of NextGen TV.”

Pearl Managing Director Anne Schelle said that Sinclair has been participating in the Pearl test-bed in Phoenix for the past two years, where Pearl is developing a “basic” service with 4K HDR video and improved audio and audio functionality.

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Now, as a full-fledged member of Pearl, Sinclair will begin contributing funds for the continuing development work and share the intellectual property that comes out of it, she said.  It will also “accelerate” introduction of the service, she said. “This just makes it more seamless.”

The first commercial NextGen market is likely to be Phoenix and Ripley hinted that Las Vegas might be the second. But Pearl has yet to produce a schedule of additional markets or say how many it expects to have up and running by year’s end. Pearl has identified 61 markets where broadcasters have committed to turning on NextGen signals at some point. Schelle promised more news about where the service will pop up at the NAB Show in April.

“Having those basic builds be fairly uniform allows the consumer to have a consistent experience and gives the manufacturers comfort that the televisions that they are deploying in Las Vegas will easily work in Boston,” Shelle said.

Introducing NextGen in any market is complicated. The broadcasters must work closely together, setting up some stations to broadcast the new, improved NextGen signals and others to broadcast current ATSC 1.0 signals. The NextGen signals are not compatible with existing 1.0 receivers.

So, to offer NextGen service in a market, broadcasters must not only overcome the difficult logistical and technical problems, but also must reach agreements among themselves on who does what.

Pearl has been encouraged by promises at CES last month that leading manufacturers including Sony, Samsung and LG Electronics will offer 20 models of NextGen TV sets this year.

Also driving the Nextgen basic service are the major broadcast networks, which will deliver programming to their affiliates in 4K and HDR, Ripley said. Their slowness in embracing the service was “probably one of the reasons why last year you didn’t see really any commercial rollouts,” he said. “It did take some time to get the networks there, but they are on board now. They have updated their technical view of the world based on the latest technology.”

While the Pearl broadcasters have been focused on the “basic” TV service, Sinclair has been targeting other applications of NextGen, namely datacasting and mobile. “We are strong believers in mobile and we think it will come, but you need to have steps A, B, C, D, E and F to get there,” Ripley said.

Ripley added that Sinclair will continue to pursue those ambitions through its One Media subsidiary and its Spectrum Co. joint venture with Nexstar Media. He said that its joining of Pearl does not obligate any of its members to join Spectrum Co.

“There is no quid pro quo here, whatsoever, but, yes, we would welcome more people joining Spectrum Co.,” Ripley said. “Ultimately, as things develop, we think they will.”


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