CEO David Smith: “By July, maybe August, we should know essentially what the future platform will look like, what business platforms we can roll off that will look like. It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve seen the industry line up to control its own destiny.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group boss David Smith projects next-generation television standards will be on the FCC’s desk by year end, if not before.
The platform being developed by ONE Media, the joint venture between Sinclair and Coherent Logix, looms large in the standards development. The Advanced Television Systems Committee has reportedly already accepted a key signaling component developed by ONE Media and China’s National Research Center of Digital Television.
“By July, maybe August, we should know essentially what the future platform will look like, what business platforms we can roll off that will look like,” Smith said during this morning’s first-quarter earnings conference call with analysts and investors.
ONE Media is developing a platform that would use and extend the reach of existing “high power/tall tower” broadcast infrastructure to deliver digital television signals as well as a host of data services to portable and mobile devices.
Smith is a leading advocate of a next-generation ATSC standard, dubbed ATSC 3.0, that would enable broadcasters to more effectively compete with hard-wired and wireless broadband providers, including cable and telecommunications companies.
Haggling within the industry over the new standards may have slowed development but that appears to be easing.
“I think you’ll see the industry get behind what’s in its best interests,” Smith said. “It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve seen the industry line up to control its own destiny.”
Much of Sinclair’s R&D money “is literally going to lots of engineers who are sitting down and designing what I would describe as the most perfect platform television can have to compete in every arena,” Smith said.
The new standard plays directly into Sinclair’s spectrum plans. While the company in the past has indicated it does not intend to participate in the FCC spectrum incentive auction, now scheduled for early next year, it has in recent months softened that position somewhat, indicating that it’s open to the most effective way of monetizing its spectrum.
Among the leaders in duopolies, Sinclair potentially could have it both ways: Participate in the auction and deploy spectrum for the advanced services envisioned by the ONE Media platform.
“Who will be selected [for the auction] will be up to the FCC,” Chris Ripley, Sinclair CFO, observed. “The good news from our perspective, regardless of whether we’re selected, we control our destiny when it comes to ATSC 3.0. For us, [the auction] is a great benchmark for value. It could be unlocked either through selling through the auction or ATSC 3.0.”
One the regulatory front, Smith said there are signs from Washington that the FCC’s recently imposed tough JSA restrictions could be eased.
“The Senate on Monday introduced legislation to grandfather all existing JSAs which have been in business 15-20 years,” Smith said. “I think the Senate understands there was a mistake made. Now it’s up to Congress.”