Proponents for a new broadcast TV transmission standard are putting aside their differences and forming coalitions. ONE Media — a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix — and China’s National Engineering Research Center of Digital Television, have agreed to pool technology over the key signaling component of the transmission standard or “physical layer.” According to a source close to the committee, ATSC has accepted the ONE Media/NERC technology, which is currently under final ATSC review.
In May 1993, the technology companies vying to have their digital TV broadcasting system adopted as the national standard agreed to combine resources, split royalties and come up with a single system comprising parts of all.
The so-called Grand Alliance eventually delivered such a system. It was dutifully adopted by the FCC as the national standard in 1996 and today it serves broadcasters and their viewers in North America and others parts of the world.
History may be repeating itself to some extent as competing companies in the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s effort to develop a new and improved broadcasting standard dubbed ATSC 3.0, or next-gen TV, are beginning to come together, accelerating progress toward a final standard.
ONE Media — a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix — and China’s National Engineering Research Center of Digital Television have agreed to pool technology over the key signaling component of the transmission standard or “physical layer.”
ATSC has accepted the ONE Media/NERC technology, which is currently under final ATSC review, a source close to the committee confirmed.
“We worked with NERC to strengthen the overall robustness of the technology,” said Kevin Gage, ONE Media EVP of strategic development and CTO, in an interview with TVNewsCheck.
An NERC representative declined comment.
In addition, ONE Media and Samsung have agreed to work together jointly on a proposal that covers the other key components of a “broadcaster-centric” transmission system, a source confirmed. Still other alliances could be forthcoming within the next several weeks, the source added.
In the wake of a request by ATSC’s broadcast industry representatives, Samsung also has combined its proposed technology for the standard’s IP service and management functions with those of a coalition that includes Sony, LG and Qualcomm, other key players at the ATSC 3.0 bargaining table, a source said.
Mark Richer, ATSC president, declined to comment on any of the specific deals. But, he said, “the transmission standard is under development and is likely to include core technologies from various organizations.”
ATSC’s Richer says the committee hopes to have candidate standards for the key layers of the system, including the physical layer, ready before the end of the year, and a final standard by July of next year.
Representatives of Sony and Qualcomm did not respond to requests for comment. John Taylor, a spokesman for LG, and Megan Pollock, a spokeswoman for Samsung, declined comment.
That the transmission standard discussions appear to be coalescing around ONE Media’s broadcaster-centric approach is good news for broadcasting. ONE Media’s system is optimized for broadcasting to smartphones and other mobile devices — a criterion for the new standard high on the lists of many broadcasters.
The ONE Media system also enables broadcasters to offer ultra HD (4K) TV, targeted advertising and enter new data businesses, its proponents say.
“Broadcasters have begun to take charge of the ATSC agenda,” said a source. “Until several months ago, the ATSC process was being driven purely by the consumer electronics interests. Now Pearl, Sinclair and other major broadcasters are working in unison to do what’s in the best interests of broadcasters.”
Pearl is a technology consortium of several major broadcast groups with some 170 network-affiliated TV stations, including Scripps, Gannett, Graham Media, Hearst, Media General, Meredith, Raycom and Schurz.
A source with knowledge of the situation said the ONE Media/NERC compromise technology, if ultimately ratified, could help clear the way for the broadcast industry to seek support for a next-generation broadcast standard on Capitol Hill and at the FCC.
The ATSC began thinking about a new broadcast standard not long after the broadcast industry completed its long transition from NTSC analog TV to the original digital standard of the Grand Alliance in 2009.
The ATSC formally began the standards-setting process in fall 2011 with the establishment of the ATSC 3.0 Technology Group to develop goals for the standard. It invited tech companies to prepared systems for consideration as a transmission standard in March 2013. That fall, 19 companies heeded the call.
The standards battle is about more than technology. Those companies that contribute patented technology to the final standard will split royalties that could run into the billions of dollars over the life of the standard.
Implementation of the new standard will not be easy or cheap. It will require stations to install new transmission gear. More significantly, because all the proposed transmission systems are incompatible with the current standard, some accommodation will have to be made for consumers and cable and satellite operators with receivers built to the current standard.
But ATSC 3.0 proponents see implementation as the next challenge. For the moment, they are focused on current one of settling on a standard. And to the extent they can form partnerships and avoid contentious tests and votes, they will expedite the resolution.
Broadcasters, consumer manufacturers and major players from around the world are collaborating on the process, said ATSC’s Richer. “It’s great.”