Broadcasters Make In-Car Play For ATSC 3.0
Broadcasters and technology vendors visited Detroit last week to pitch the automotive industry on the benefits the ATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast standard can bring to cars, including wireless software updates of key control systems, emergency traffic alerts on the dashboard and live TV in the backseat.
The symposium at Scripps-owned WXYZ Detroit, organized by broadcast consortium Pearl TV, coincided with an announcement that Scripps sister station WYMD Detroit will launch 3.0 broadcasts next year in partnership with Graham Media’s WDIV. The goal is for WYMD to serve as a 3.0 test-bed for the major auto makers headquartered locally.
While conversations between broadcasters and car makers are just starting, 3.0 proponents say that given the three-to-five-year build cycle of a typical new model it’s crucial to get 3.0 receiver chips into car makers’ design plans by next spring so they’re ready to roll in 2024, by which time next-gen stations will be broadcasting across the U.S.
“The whole goal is for the automotive industry to put implementation of the chip in their road map,” says Pearl TV Managing Director Anne Schelle. “That usually takes four years, which is great timing for us. We’ll have broad deployments by that time.”
Autonomous cars could one day be big users of the ATSC 3.0 pipe, both for broadcasting live news and entertainment to passive drivers and for delivering reams of map and traffic data to onboard navigation and control systems. But the near-term play for broadcasters is less ambitious and more focused on B-to-B applications than infotainment to the front seat. And they are pitching 3.0 broadcast spectrum as a companion technology to wireless carriers’ developing 5G networks, not as a competitor.
Schelle says one easily supportable application via 3.0 is the wireless delivery of software updates to vehicles, something that today generally requires a visit to the dealer and a manual plug-in into the car’s onboard diagnostics port (such as the standard OBD II interface).
For example, last year rental car giant Avis Budget Group had 44 factory recalls related to software updates across its 600,000-strong global fleet, which includes the Avis and Budget rental car brands as well as the Zipcar subscription-based car rental service.
In each instance, the affected car had to be pulled out of the rental pool and taken to a maintenance facility for the software update to be manually delivered via an OBD II plug-in, resulting in lost revenue and unnecessary labor costs, says Jeff Kaelin, VP of product development for Avis.
“In an ideal world, you would have the software updates broadcast to vehicles and then use the telemetry data to feed back successes,” says Kaelin.
Finding operational efficiencies like that is a major reason why Avis is pushing to have a full fleet of “connected cars” with two-way data capability by the end of 2020, allowing it to gather data on location, odometer and fuel readings; diagnostic trouble codes; tire pressure monitoring, even to enable locking and unlocking and start authorizations. The company currently has 100,000 connected vehicles in its fleet and is looking to double that number this year.
But the push for connected cars is also based on changing consumer appetites in today’s smartphone-driven world, where consumers expect to be able to order up any product or service from the palm of their hand. They also increasingly want to buy products as services, through subscriptions instead of transactions.
In that vein, luxury brands like Volvo and BMV already offer subscription plans that provide use of their vehicles for an all-inclusive monthly fee that covers insurance, roadside assistance and maintenance and gives customers the ability to easily switch between models.
“We look at all car companies as mobility companies who are getting into services,” says Bryan Biniak, CEO of connected car technology specialist firm Connected Travel. “And for any software services which are going to scale or become profitable, they’re going to be wireless.”
While Avis currently does 34 million transactions a year, the company sees a future revenue mix that will include a healthy dose of subscriptions and memberships. Zipcar already has more than one million members, and Avis is also getting into ride-hailing services by providing a fleet of cars to Lyft. Although it already has 11,000 retail locations, Avis also wants to make its products available in a lot more places than just big cities and airport car-rental counters.
“We’ve been anticipating that shift for some time,” Kaelin says. “We see a world that’s connected, integrated and on-demand. Our shift is to make our products available to consumers where and when they interact with us. Consumers are also going to be spending more time riding than driving, and we’re preparing for that future as we look ahead.”
In that vein, Avis has created a “mobility lab” in Kansas City, Mo., to explore new applications and technologies. It has also partnered with Pearl TV to test different automotive applications for ATSC 3.0 in its Phoenix Model Market. The Phoenix testing, which is under development, will use plug-in receivers for installed in-car entertainment systems as well as tablets. It will include live TV broadcasts with enhanced on-screen applications as well as data services including Avis rental car information, coupons and maps.
“The ability to provide content to the back seat is really important, and there’s an opportunity for broadcasters with hyper-local content,” says Kaelin. “A large percent of our customers are travelers in an area they’re unfamiliar with, and they’re often business travelers looking to put a little pleasure into their trip, because they may not come back to Detroit or Salt Lake City again.”
Kaelin says 3.0 broadcasts could be used to deliver localized offers for restaurants or tips on sight-seeing locations to Lyft cars or regular Avis rental vehicles.
“Today we’re delivering that to the mobile app,” says Kaelin. “But we see an evolution from the app to bring-your-own-device to in-car backseat.”
Honda is already working on bringing promotional offers and carefully curated content to drivers and passengers of its vehicles with its “Honda Dream Drive” initiative, announced at CES in January. Honda Dream Drive, which is being developed by the carmaker’s Honda Innnovations research arm in conjunction with Connected Travel, is based on a “super app” that allows a driver to interact with popular apps like GrubHub, Yelp and Ticketmaster while driving through voice commands.
For passengers, there will also be specialized content available via tablets or in-car displays. Examples demonstrated at CES included geolocation gaming with Lego, “connected comics” with DC Comics and movie trailers and ticketing with Atom Tickets.
Payment information is tied to the vehicle through credit cards or payment services like Venmo, allowing a driver to buy on-the-fly, and drivers will also have the opportunity to earn rewards points with hotel, travel and retail companies like Marriott, Southwest and Starbucks through exchanging their data, something they already do on their smartphones and computers.
“How do we create value for everyday driving and riding in vehicles, the same thing that’s been developed for travel elsewhere?” says Biniak.
For now, Honda Dream Vision is based on using existing cellular networks, where AT&T enjoys the lion’s share of the burgeoning connected car market. Biniak says that while 3.0 has been on his firm’s radar for several years, it’s not something his customers can use today, and he hasn’t seen a strong business case for it yet. He notes that car makers are already able to deliver a lot of the same functionality through smartphone integrations like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Going forward, he thinks 3.0 might gain traction by being a less expensive transmission pipe than cellular or satellite options. Pearl TV has presented research suggesting that a hybrid “5G plus ATSC 3.0” network could be over 50% cheaper than relying solely on cellular networks to communicate with connected cars.
“One of the most significant opportunities is around cost,” Biniak says. “The cost associated with delivering the data should be significantly cheaper than a lot of existing solutions in the marketplace today, which in itself would be a key driver. If all things are equal from a performance standpoint, that will be an opportunity for people.”
John Lawson, president of consulting firm Convergence Services, has spent the past few years advocating the use of 3.0 to provide advanced emergency alert services through his work with the AWARN Alliance, of which he is executive director. But through his consulting work Lawson has also become involved in the intelligent transportation sector, where he says 3.0 can play a vital role.
“A very important use case is public safety,” Lawson says. “It’s totally appropriate for broadcasters and CE makers to focus on in-car entertainment and data apps to the car. But there’s another whole side of the equation that the industry has to pay attention to if they want to get ATSC 3.0 receivers built into connected vehicles, and that’s the public sector, including state departments of transportation, smart cities and dynamic toll express lanes.”
Intelligent transportation systems aim to use both vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications to transfer information about vehicles’ positions, road conditions, changes in traffic patterns, etc. to avoid accidents and reduce congestion. There are a number of different communications protocols being implemented for intelligent transport including the Wi-Fi-based DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications), 5G, and C-V2X, which has been developed by Qualcomm and can work in dedicated ITS 5.9 GHz spectrum as well as on traditional cellular networks.
The one thing they all have in common is a very short range (generally from 100 to 300 meters up to 1 Km) compared to television broadcast transmissions, which makes them reliant on a high-density network of small transmitters to provide coverage.
“Most communications about transport in the intelligent transportation sector are about very short-range systems, which are all vulnerable to congestion, power interruptions and cyberattacks,” says Lawson. “ATSC 3.0 from tall towers not only provides redundancy, but provides traffic management centers a capability of reaching all those vehicles at one time, whether they’re driven by robots or driven by humans.”
The city of Las Vegas, through the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), is already moving ahead on testing and implementing different intelligent transport technologies. The city now has 100 intersections equipped with DSRC transmitters that can pass along traffic light data to a small fleet of Aptiv autonomous vehicles operated by Lyft, says Tina Quigley, executive director and CEO of the RTC.
The RTC is working with Qualcomm to install some C-V2X units and test them in conjunction with DSRC, and has also received a federal grant to deploy autonomous vehicles for public transportation in its medical district.
Quigley agrees with Biniak’s prediction that wide deployment of autonomous vehicles is probably at least five years away, and will happen with public transportation first. She also says that autonomous vehicles require two-way communications systems like DSRC or 5G, which can work well in infrastructure-heavy urban corridors like the Las Vegas Strip where placing transmitters isn’t an issue.
But she is also interested in ATSC 3.0 for its ability to reliably broadcast safety information like congestion issues, road closures or flash flood warnings to drivers, either across a wide area or in a very specific geo-targeted fashion. She says 3.0 would also be of great benefit in rural areas that lack fiber connectivity.
“You’re talking about being able to get into any car, anywhere, and you don’t need to have devices every 500 feet like with the 5G small cell towers they’re talking about,” says Quigley. “That’s really powerful from a public safety perspective and a congestion management perspective. And it will make drivers safer.”
Scripps VP of Engineering Ray Thurber sensed similar enthusiasm from the audience at the Pearl TV symposium in Detroit. There he met executives from Honda, Avis, Ford and GM and quickly got into discussions about how soon they could partner with Scripps on testing 3.0 use-cases.
“Watching in the room, you could see the lightbulbs go on, particularly when we talked about the one-to-many architecture of broadcasters,” says Thurber. “They realize this is a viable way for them to transfer data and entertainment into autonomous vehicles, into the dashboard and into back seats.”