Sinclair’s tech guru Mark Aitken urges engineers to make sure they keep their management aware of the threat from OTT video providers. “The broadcast industry really has to unite, at least in a virtual sense, to look at what can we do to become a viable competitor in today’s marketplace,” he says. Advertising dollars have begun to leave the local TV market in favor of new media alternatives, he said. While the shift is small today, if left unchallenged “it will be a sorry state of affairs 10 years from now if we are still around.”
It is time for the television industry in the United States to recognize the fact that companies like Google and other over-the-top video program providers are “at war” with over-the-air TV for viewers, advertisers, content and, ultimately, the entire television business, said Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast Group VP of advanced engineering, Tuesday during a luncheon keynote at the 2014 Annual SMPTE Conference & Exhibition.
Speaking to hundreds of high-level TV, motion picture and video streaming engineers at a packed ballroom in the Loews Hollywood Hotel, Aitken said many in broadcast management at the station level are unaware of the threat because they have remained focused on the traditional measures of success — the station’s monthly, quarterly and annual sales financial performance.
“If our competitors believe they are engaged in a war, as an industry, if we are unaware we are at war, we are going to lose,” he said.
Television engineers have an important role to play, informing station management — which often came up through the sales or news departments — about the threats.
“We … as engineers are not taking a look at the surroundings in which we exist and taking the initiative to do the kinds of things and communicate … about where this all is going,” he said.
Station management is used to the broadcast business as usual and is unaware of the opportunities they will have to exploit revenue opportunities with other services.
Aitken pointed to the growing number of original programs available over the top and consumed on media tablets and smart TVs as a sign of developing cracks in the foundation of the TV business.
“The broadcast industry really has to unite, at least in a virtual sense, to look at what can we do to become a viable competitor in today’s marketplace.”
Advertising dollars have begun to leave the local TV market in favor of new media alternatives, he said. While the shift is small today, if left unchallenged “it will be a sorry state of affairs 10 years from now if we are still around.”
There needs to be recognition on the part of those creating technical standards for television about where the industry wishes to head from a business point of view, he said, pointing to the wireless industry an example of what can be accomplished.
For instance, the efforts of the wireless industry to offer broadcast-like services over their own networks with LTE Broadcast is the result of a standardization processes at the 3GPP standards body “that is looking out over the horizon” to where the wireless industry wants to be in five years and what is being deployed in the shorter term to support that goal.
Aitken called on the broadcast industry to think strategically in the same way. “We’ve got to evolve our standards in such a way that that kind of future is a possibility for us, too.”
He added that LTE Broadcast technology is being developed for use in foreign markets that one day could “end up eating our lunch with a capable LTE Broadcast mode, but thank goodness it is not here today. And I think we have opportunity to cut that off at the pass.”
Until as recently as last year, most broadcasters viewed their business in the same way they did in the mid 1990s when ATSC 1.0 was first deployed, he said.
Aitken also discussed the FCC’s incentive auction of broadcast spectrum and the appeal NAB and Sinclair are engaged in over the agency’s Report and Order laying out the details of the auction. How it addresses coverage, population served, having sufficient time to relocate before being required to relinquish a broadcast license and the process for redress after being assigned a new channel is part of the appeal, he said.
“We believe broadcasting, quite literally, is being marched to the cliff,” he said.
The law authorizing the FCC to conduct the auction also gives the agency authority to grant waivers to broadcasters of existing rules to make flexible use of their spectrum, he said. “They [the FCC] haven’t got a clue what it is,” he said. “They’ve asked us what we think it ought to be.”
Aitken said there is a growing number of broadcasters representing “hundreds and hundreds of stations” that are looking for a means to transition to the next-generation ATSC 3.0 standard “without displacing consumers” and do it in a way that “leaves our business uninterrupted … and an opportunity for growth in the future,” he said.
Flexible use can give broadcasters the means to make that happen, he said.
“The challenge that we have is one of thinking about what is it that we could do,” he said. Aitken called on those in the industry to encourage fresh thinking, allowing a range of ideas about where to take the business to surface and not shooting down any idea prematurely.
“We have reached the point where there is a dire need to do something different, and as an industry we have actually begun to turn that corner. I say that because there are numerous broadcasters that have a very similar opinion as to what the necessities are for the future.”
One of those areas of agreement, said Aitken, is that mobile has to be part of the future of television broadcasting. “There may be an argument about whether broadcasters need a standard of their own to support mobility, and we can have that discussion,” he said. “That is a business discussion.”
He cautioned that the “failure of” ATSC A/153-based mobile television is not an indication that viewers aren’t interest in content on the go, but more about broadcasters. “The failure of ATSC mobile was the failure on the part of all broadcasters embracing it as an opportunity. It was a problem coming to the table with a business discussion with rightsholders. It was a massive failure because an industry did not put its will behind it.
“That is a failure of leadership.”
Mobile video delivery is only one opportunity, he said. Offloading mobile data, not just pictures and sound, to broadcasters for distribution over the air is another. “I can say there is real money in the broadcast distribution of data,” he said.
The “Internet of Things” will require the mass distribution of uniform data to specialized devices, he said. “There is a huge opportunity … that today is being measured in trillions of dollars” for the Internet of Things, he said.
“Broadcasting is a platform that could uniquely provide that.”