Kevin Gage, late of NAB and now CTO of ONE Media, a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix, is leading a technical drive to develop a new TV standard that will give stations the ability to broadcast TV signals to smartphones while simultaneously serving all those TV receivers linked to roof-top antennas. “That’s the nut that we’re trying to crack,” he says, adding “and we believe that we have cracked it.”
In late May, Kevin Gage suddenly left his job as NAB’s chief technology officer. But less than a month later, he remerged as executive vice president of strategic planning and chief technology officer for ONE Media, a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix.
ONE Media is developing a broadcast system it hopes will be adopted as the next national standard for terrestrial broadcasting. ONE Media is now working through the ATSC standards-setting body, competing against a dozen other system proponents.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck, his first since making to move the ONE Media, Gage says that the venture is pouring millions of dollars and countless engineer-hours into developing a system that is just as adept at delivering TV to smartphones as it is to 50-inch TVs linked to a roof-top antenna. He also says that ONE Media and other broadcasters are being heard for the first time at ATSC, which receiver manufacturers have traditionally tended to dominate. “The tide is beginning to change.”
An edited transcript:
What’s the mission of ONE Media?
What we’re focusing is on the technology development. We have not had in our industry, really, a lab focused purely on broadcast technology for a while. Technology is coming from all over the place, but not necessarily from broadcasters.
Our first project is the next-generation broadcast platform. We call it that because it’s a platform that enables a bunch of different things versus one specific type of delivery of content. If there’s a device out there, we want to have the opportunity to find out ways to be able to transmit that signal to that device and figure out a business model that works with that device.
The system is being designed to be fully optimized as a flexible mobile broadcast system. It is also designed for the exact same thing for fixed. It can do both simultaneously and that will enable a diverse group of broadcasters to pick and choose the type of services they want; that’s important to their corporate strategy and to their business market needs. That’s the nut that we’re trying to crack and we believe that we have cracked it.
This is the system that you have proposed at ATSC to be adopted as new broadcast national standard. Why your system and not any of the others?
If you look at the solutions that are in the marketplace today, you see they were built either for a small cell-type environment like LTE or for the fixed broadcast environment like DVB, which goes back to 1997.
Neither of them really work well. So, if we want to be a highly mobile broadcast system and be able to do fixed as well as we can do today, we have to start from scratch.
This has to be green field, and so once that decision is made, it was OK, who’s going to do it? Sinclair said, we have to do this. We have to put our money where our mouth is. They funded ONE Media venture and we’re off and running.
How are things going for you at the ATSC? Are you making any progress there?
Well, we will see. We have reimagined what the broadcast system could look like. ATSC has made a number of choices that basically becomes a big bake-off of who does DVB the best. We’re coming in with some different ideas.
We have already pushed one of those new ideas in at one of the working group levels in which we need inherent mobile support, and broadcasters came together and said, listen, we want to revisit this. We want to see how this works, not just what you say can’t happen on paper. We want to see what happens in practice. So, the tide is beginning to change a little bit.
As I understand, ONE Media is not a one-and-done operation.
Yes, we would like to continue to innovate. That’s the whole point of our proposal to ATSC. It’s to create a very flexible platform that allows continued innovation versus what we have with ATSC 1.0 where we were locked in. There wasn’t much wiggle room there.
How big is ONE Media?
We have put together a team of at least 30 core engineers and they’re based all over North America — Canada, Portland [Ore.], Silicon Valley, down in Austin [Texas], up in Maryland. Then we have probably a good 50-plus extra supporting engineers. They’re not all on at full time. Again, these are spread out across North America.
Are these employees of One Media or of Coherent Logix?
Well Coherent Logix is managing the technology resources as they come in and as we need them.
So you actually have 30 people working fulltime on this project?
Well, yeah, I hope they are working fulltime anyway.
That’s quite a commitment. So we’re talking a budget of what, millions of dollars a year? Is that fair to say?
Are you looking for other people to come in on this thing? Would you like other broadcasters to be partners in this enterprise?
Do we want them to be partners? Yes. How we define that is yet to be determined. What we’re looking for, as I said, at this initial stage is the technology development. Yes, we want broadcasters to be a part of it because this is not for ONE Media alone. This is for broadcasting.
So you want participation from other broadcasters, but not necessarily equity participation.
All options are available, but we definitely want participation. I mean we need that. Again, as I said, this is for broadcasting and so if it’s for broadcasting we need participation with the other broadcasters.
And you certainly want their support over at the ATSC when the voting begins.
Well, we want their input as well. It has to work for them. We don’t believe we have the singular vision of what it is in the world of the future. I mean hopefully we are smart enough to know that we don’t know what the future is and we need the input of our best and our brightest to be able to help us build this next-generation platform.
Now when you were at the NAB, you made a proposal to kick off some kind of NAB Labs. Whatever happened to that? Why didn’t that ever work out?
It’s there and it’s virtual and it does a number of things. I mean part of it was the initial study behind what we’re doing today here on TV broadcasting. We asked whether a next-generation platform makes sense and the answer from the technology standpoint was overwhelmingly yes, we need something new.
Well that’s sounds like a study group. I’m talking about an organization that would actually do what you’re doing — solder some wires together and make things happen.
I think it’s the difference between an associations and a private entity. We’re in the private space. It gives us the ability potentially for more nimbleness, flexibility in what we can do based off of our business needs.
There was education, there was incubation, there was a number of different things that we put together based on the framework of what we could do within a public organization. ONE Media is solely focused on one thing and one thing only, and that’s next-generation television broadband broadcast.
Is there a point where you have to lock in your technology and say here it is?
Well that’s what we’re doing right now. We are filing the provisional patents on some of the stuff that we’re doing that’s unique.
If your system is selected by ATSC and ultimately becomes the national standard, do you stand to make a lot of money on the royalties?
Potentially. But that’s not really the reason why I think Sinclair funded this. They know that to be able to compete in the world five years from now, they’re going to need to have a new platform.