As the year opens, a number of tech questions and issues remain unresolved. Here are 10 that are likely to make news in the upcoming 12 months that you'll want to stay on top of. They range from the Emergency Alert System to drones, to bonded cellular, all the way to the cloud.
10 Broadcast Tech Stories To Follow In ’14
While writing out TVNewsCheck’s broadcast technology year in review piece that published before Christmas, I caught myself thinking, “It will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2014.”
What will happen with the spectrum auction? Will the cellular carriers start cracking down on broadcasters bonding large chunks of their broadband to go live to air? Will mobile DTV vendors keep fighting to get consumers to attach antennas to their smartphones?
Here are 10 stories to keep on your radar this year.
1. The Emergency Alert System
The year wasn’t a good one for the Emergency Alert System. In February, a hacker broke into EAS systems in at least four TV stations around the country, sending out an alert that “dead bodies were rising from their graves.” Humorous, but that same morning, the New York Times reported that the North Korea was testing a new missile. The fake EAS alert wouldn’t have been as funny if it had had anything to do with a nuclear attack. And then in Colorado Springs, Colo., during the state’s most destructive wildfire, the loud buzzing tones that precede an EAS alert never played because of editorial, technical and regulatory problems, exposing some major flaws with the system. This year, the FCC plans to run another nationwide test and is looking for input from broadcasters when it comes to technical details of the system.
2. 4K Cameras For News
Everyone knows that consumer TV manufacturers are pushing 4K, or ultra-HD. The question for 2014 is, will television stations begin purchasing 4K cameras? Many TV sitcoms and dramas are already being shot in 4K in order to produce a high-resolution, future-proof master; and sports broadcasters are using 4K as an effective digital zoom-in tool for instant replays. What could local news broadcasters use 4K cameras for?
3. News Drones
Today, it’s illegal for broadcasters in the U.S. to attach a small camera to an unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft and capture footage from above. That’s not stopping interest among news folks, however. Drones can easily get eyes beyond a police line, the technology is significantly cheaper than a news helicopter and it adds a whole new layer to covering day-to-day stories. Imagine what you could do at a high school football game? There’s plenty of regulatory details to iron out, but as Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism, pointed out in his 2014 journalism prediction for Nieman’s Journalism Lab, “You will see photographers, film companies, documentarians and anyone else trying to tell stories using drones for their work.”
4. Virtual Hubs & Newsrooms
Last month, TVNewsCheck published a piece on the future of centralcasting, and how much of it would be done virtually, or in the cloud, in the future. Companies like Snell and Florical have products today to make these virtual hubs a reality, and big broadcast vendors Harris Broadcast and Miranda say they have products in the works. By the time the NAB Show opens its doors in April, expect more buzz around these types of operations. If proven, expect the concept to carry over to other aspects of the broadcasting business. If we can centralize master control operations from the cloud, why not an entire newsroom?
5. The Cloud
The cloud has become so generalized that we don’t even realize we’re using it. Every time we access our email, drop a large file in DropBox or pull up some video clips from a server hosted by Amazon Web Services, we’re using the cloud. Expect more broadcast services to be thrown in the cloud this year. Cloud-based media asset management products are already available, and according to a few broadcast tech vendors, cloud-based encoders/transcoders are right around the corner. If you thought cloud was big at NAB last April, just wait until this April.
6. 1 World Trade Center
Broadcasters in the country’s largest TV market have a towering decision to make this year: Keep transmitting off the top of the Empire State Building or move their antennas over to 1WTC, which became the country’s tallest skyscraper last May when its spire was installed, bringing it up to 1,776 feet. John Lyons, the man charged with attracting those broadcasters to lower Manhattan, says he continues to be in talks with TV and radio stations, but says much hinges on the pending spectrum auction, the next point on this list.
7. The Spectrum Auction
At this point, broadcasters just want to know how this auction is going to work. But the other story to follow this year is which stations are looking to ditch their TV stations and sell spectrum. There was plenty of buying and selling in 2013, giving speculators and broadcasters like Sinclair and Nexstar plenty of spectrum to play with. According to new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC will work on the auction rules this year so that it can conduct the auction in 2015, one year behind the original schedule.
8. Mobile DTV
What does 2014 hold for companies like Dyle and the Mobile500 Alliance? TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell already wrote the obituary for mobile DTV, and for good reason. The devices are clunky (and expensive), few stations are broadcasting a mobile signal and all of the networks are working on their own streaming strategies that work from anywhere with a cellular connection. Throw in the fact that ATSC 3.0 will be able to send out a signal to mobile devices simultaneously with the main signal, and the whole idea of mobile DTV industry becomes even more irrelevant.
9. Bonded Cellular
If you aren’t using bonded cellular transmitter tools today, you soon will. The ENG technology that has — to a point — made microwave trucks easy to forget, takes multiple cell networks and bonds them together, giving broadcasters the best possible, live-to-air-ready bandwidth. As more airtime is powered by cellular broadband, don’t be surprised if the Verizons and AT&Ts start raising objections — the video is a bandwidth hog.
10. Apple In The Television World
At a panel on the future of television at the 2013 International CES Show, I remember one panelist saying the TV industry is waiting to see what Apple has in its bag of tricks. Will the world’s most valuable computer company revolutionize the TV industry the same way it did the music industry? 2013 came and went without any major Apple TV news, outside of the addition of some TV Everywhere apps to the company’s set-top box. There are plenty of rumors out there saying Apple will release a 4K TV set that will crack the code on the traditional TV model, but until that happens, broadcasters need to continue innovating to show why their product is still the best and most efficient way of getting news and programming to many people at the same time.