TECH Q&A

Anne Schelle Has A Clear Vision For Pearl

The new managing director of the consortium of TV station groups that’s pushing mobile DTV has 20 years of media experience, with a focus on wireless. Her new focus is to make sure Pearl members keep pace with the proliferating ways that consumers are watching TV at home and on their mobile devices. She talks about how broadcasters can still make mobile a vital part of their business, why smart TVs are promising and Pearl's shaper focus on developing a next-generation broadcast system through ATSC.

Earlier this month, Pearl, the consortium of eight major TV broadcast groups, tapped Anne Schelle to be its managing director. The move was a natural one for Schelle and for Pearl.

As executive director of the now-defunct Open Mobile Video Coalition, Schelle worked closely with Pearl in trying to get the broadcast-centric mobile DTV group off the ground. She has also served as an adviser to Pearl.

Schelle has some 20 years of experience in media, much of it in the wireless industry. At Pearl, her job is to make sure its members keep pace with the proliferating ways that consumers are watching TV at home and on their mobile devices.

Pearl members have a lot at stake. Its members — Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett, Hearst Television, Media General, Meredith Local Media Group, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media — reach 63% of the U.S. population with 173 stations in 98 markets, and book more than $4 billion in annual ad revenue. 

In this interview with TVNewsCheck Tech Editor Phil Kurz, Schelle discusses her new role, how broadcasters can still make mobile a vital part of their business, why smart TVs are promising and Pearl’s shaper focus on developing a next-generation broadcast system through ATSC.

An edited transcript:

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You formerly were executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition and most recently an adviser to the NAB on mobile television. Where does mobile DTV stand today and where it is going?

I continue to be a believer that mobile is an important platform for broadcasters. As you know, Pearl has an investment in Dyle [Pearl’s branded mobile DTV service]. They have been working to build out that network. Pearl is also looking to the new standards to support mobile as well.

I have to make it clear that today broadcasters distribute a lot of content and information to mobile viewers. This would be the linear feed, or the direct feed, and that continues to be a strong interest of theirs and investment of theirs.

I know there are more than 100 broadcasters simulcasting their linear channel via the mobile DTV standard. But from the receiver side, it’s been a lot tougher to make mobile DTV successful, right?

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It continues to be a challenge, more so with getting onto smartphones, and I think that conversations are continuing with carriers. There are obvious challenges with the devices out there. I do think the broadcast platform brings a lot of value to the cellular platform. Even LTE Broadcast wouldn’t be able to provide a full TV service. There is value to broadcasting, especially as video usage increases.

So, you believe TV broadcasters can help wireless carriers offload video distribution to lessen the strain on their networks?
Yes. I think it is not unlike the Wi-Fi model that existed six or seven years ago where carriers weren’t allowing the offloading to Wi-Fi, and now they embrace that. Video on a bit basis is very expensive for them, especially when it is a lot of free video. So, mobile DTV is a great way to offload distributing that content.

It hasn’t quite happened yet, but I do think you will see interest in that from the carriers.

Is this really more a matter of settling business issues with carriers than technology issues?

Yes. I think down the road there are viable business models that would lend themselves to a partnership type of arrangement.

I think an interesting corollary is the FM radio chip in cell phones. In that instance, the silicon was already in the phones and the wireless carriers still weren’t allowing its use. A business arrangement developed with Sprint, and I think you will potentially see the other carriers adopt the phones that are being sold because consumers want it. So, there is a consumer pull-through for it.

Are you happy with the acceptance of mobile DTV by broadcasters? Do you have any thoughts about ABC and CBS and their decision not to get involved with it?

I can’t speak for other broadcasters. I can speak for Pearl. Pearl is dedicated to mobile. They invested in Dyle; they built out their markets; they support mobile as a service; and they are certainly looking to the platform for the future.

Pearl stations in West Palm Beach, Fla., later this month will begin a trial of mobile-EAS in a hurricane scenario. What can you tell us about the trial?

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This is a technical trial to do multi-station M-EAS distribution and also to work out the implementation aspects of M-EAS.

It isn’t a consumer trial. It is a technical trial to do multi-station distribution. There is an implementation team at ATSC looking at M-EAS implementation. I also understand that this is a capability that will be transported over to ATSC 3.0.

They will be looking at the distribution of emergency alerts and coordination of it across stations.

What involvement, if any, does Pearl have with the upcoming LG demo of interactive television?

We are working with LG on that trial of their smart TVs, which we announced at NAB.

What is Pearl’s vision for interactive television, smart TVs, over-the-air television and Internet connectivity?

What is interesting about these Smart TVs is they have the return path so they are addressable if they have the ability to recognize content on the television set. With an Internet connection, the TV can see the content for the first time as opposed to being a one-way service.

With that, all types of engagement and addressable opportunities are available to broadcasters for the first time that are not dependent on a set-top box. These are new ACR (addressable content recognition) implementations.

We will be in a world of connected devices. Understanding how that works and how broadcasters implement interactive as an addressable service via Smart TVs is our goal with this test.

The ATSC is working on a next-generation broadcast system that could well determine whether there will be a next generation of broadcasters. Sinclair’s Mark Aitken has contended that the ATSC standards process is dominated by receiver makers and that their interests don’t line up with those of broadcasters, especially when it comes to mobile TV reception. Is Pearl concerned about the direction of ATSC in developing this new standard?

Pearl is very invested in working with the ATSC to ensure broadcasters are providing ATSC with the broadcast requirements we feel have to be implemented in a future standard.

We have become active. Pearl is a member of ATSC as are our member stations. We are very active, and our goal is to work with the ATSC and CE manufacturers to develop a broadcast-friendly standard.

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It appears that Sinclair’s effort reveals a split in the standards effort. On one hand, the traditional ATSC standards work seeks consensus on a new broadcast standard with a mobile component and on the other Sinclair via ONE Media is seeking a next-generation standard that is as close to LTE as possible. Do you agree?

Again, what I will say is broadcasters must be active in the standards process, and their activity level has increased substantially within the ATSC over the past four or five months. I think with that you are going to see a better understanding of the broadcaster viewpoint on requirements, and working with the CE guys to get to a platform they can accept.

What you are pointing out isn’t necessarily where things are going to be four or five months from now. I would be careful about thinking about this in terms of any kind of split at this point.

Because the ATSC process allows for the investigation of these different kinds of opportunities, and it allows for requirements to be submitted from the service providers, the broadcasters, the CE guys. Out of that process — at the end of the day — you are going to come out with an agreed-upon platform.

A lot of the components of various proposals are all at play. So, I think the more we work together and the clearer broadcasters are about their requirements, the more you will see any kind of gap close by virtue of the ATSC process.

Is Pearl looking at other technologies or have other areas of interest we haven’t discussed?

No, not at this point. We are focused on development of a future standard. We are focused on interactive television and mobile. We are focused on connected devices and opportunities that will present themselves for broadcasters. Our goal is to help forge a future for broadcasters so that it is healthy business and keeping in step with consumers in terms of their media consumption on multiple devices.

To stay up to date on all things tech, follow Frank Beacham on TVNewsCheck’s Playout tech blog here. And follow him on Twitter: @TVplayout.


Comments (1)

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Ellen Samrock says:

June 21, 2014 at 12:33 am

Well, it’s a new job for Ms. Schelle so naturally she is going to be circumspect and give an interview reeking of caution. But Dyle and mobile DTV under 1.0 is pretty much dead. It is the ATSC 3.0 standard that is going to determine whether OTA television really has a future and if it will be a TV everywhere future. As such broadcast groups like Pearl along with the NAB need to push the FCC to postpone the 600 MHz spectrum auction until 3.0 is rolled out and broadcasters have a clear roadmap. Obama’s friends have been wetting themselves trying to get the auction done before their boss leaves office. But this is far too important to rush through (besides, the wireless providers don’t need the spectrum right now).


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