Many of the same app developers focused on the web today will help bring interactivity to ATSC 3.0 viewers in the future thanks to the standard’s W3C compliance and clever use of broadcast, broadband and non-real-time content in the home. Above, NAB’s So Vang demos the interactive in-home experience offered by 3.0 in the NAB Futures Zone during the NAB Show last month.
Apps, Broadband, Broadcast = 3.0 Interactivity
ATSC 3.0, the next-generation television standard nearing completion, will so fundamentally transform the medium that TV will provide viewers with experiences indistinguishable from those they are accustomed to having on their smartphones and tablets, according to proponents.
Nowhere will this be truer than the interactive component of next-generation television, which will make it possible for consumers to create highly tailored viewing experiences driven by apps running in an underlying TV operating environment in harmony with the technology of the World Wide Web, they say.
“One of the key things about the interactive run-time environment of ATSC 3.0,” says So Vang, NAB VP of advanced technology, “is that it is purely based on W3C [the World Wide Web Consortium], or web technology.”
Being W3C-compliant is important because it opens up the 3.0 platform to an entire tech ecosystem of developers and technology that already exists.
App-driven TV viewing experiences will vary as much as the unique goals and visions of individual app developers. However, there are some pretty good guesses about how these apps will first take shape.
“I think one of the key things to the future and longevity of broadcasting is to leverage the news operations of networks and stations and deliver that content in a way consumers are starting to demand with the specific content they want,” says ATSC President Mark Richer.
At the 2016 NAB Show last month in Las Vegas, NAB’s Vang demonstrated in the NAB Futures Zone how an app on an ATSC 3.0 TV set could be used to aggregate and present news stories of specific interest to an individual viewers.
“Broadcasters are continuously touting their digital assets on earnings calls and at industry forums,” says Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s VP of advanced technology. “What are they talking about? The development community that is doing web applications, mobile applications and tying that together with the assets of a TV station, like news, weather and traffic.”
It will be easy for those same developers to create similar sorts of “W3C-aligned” apps to run in a web browser on a 3.0 platform, he says.
But 3.0 apps will do far more than create news-related interactive viewing experiences, says Patrick Greene, chief software architect at Source Digital.
The company, which has built and sells a timeline metadata system that provides app developers with access to descriptive information about the characters, content and even clothing worn throughout a TV show, sees 3.0 as the launching pad for lots of new apps.
Using that information, one developer might create an app that allows viewers to inquire about an article of clothing worn by a character, find where it’s sold online and make a purchase. Another might use the company’s timeline metadata toolkit to build an app that presents viewers with IMDB-type information about characters in a specific scene, he says.
“The cool thing about the new ATSC 3.0 standard is you will have all of these new TV sets that are going to be smart. And they are going to be watching for that [timeline metadata],” Greene says.
While W3C conformance and a web browser interface open 3.0 to an established developer community, the fact that the next-gen TV standard leverages both broadcast and broadband technology to deliver content gives those developers a fertile environment for their apps to grow.
“ATSC 3.0 is done in such a way that services can be created from broadcast components, broadcast plus broadband components, and broadcast plus pre-pushed, sitting-in-the-house-ready components so new services can be created,” says Rich Chernock, chief science officer at Triveni Digital and chair of ATSC’s TG3 (Technology Group 3), which is working on the next-gen standard.
When it comes to interactivity each has its own strength. For instance, Internet connectivity gives broadcasters real-time feedback on the engagement level of viewers with their content, says Sinclair’s Aitken.
It also makes it easy for viewers to opt into services that deliver targeted commercials and program elements, adds Richer.
Broadcasting via the IP-based pipeline envisioned for ATSC 3.0 also plays an important role in interactivity, Chernock says. “Broadcasters can push content out to ATSC 3.0 gateway devices or storage attached to tuners,” he explains.
With the ability to store content in the home that can be retrieved by viewers when desired, broadcasters can eliminate the need to deliver bits over the internet. Rather, they can leverage their unique advantage of one-to-many OTA transmission to eliminate the expense otherwise incurred by delivering those same bits via the Internet, Chernock says.
Triveni Digital has “been playing” with one way to set up what amounts to an edge server in a 3.0-powered content delivery network to enable a higher quality interactive experience for viewers, he says.
By equipping a 3.0 gateway with storage, a version of a news story with high picture quality can be pushed to and stored on the device.
“When a viewer on his tablet goes to the broadcaster’s website and says ‘Give me the news,’ the system can detect there is a really high-quality version of this news clip sitting in storage in the house already,” he says.
The viewer can then watch it instantly without the typical delay associated with downloading a high-quality clip, Chernock says.
Chernock adds that the work being done by the ATSC working group responsible for interactivity is on track and expected to be completed later this year.
At the same time, broadcasters increasingly are grasping the possibilities ATSC 3.0-enabled interactivity may deliver.
“I think some lightbulbs went off for those who saw the [3.0] demo [in the NAB Futures Zone],” says NAB’s Vang. “They could see how they can use the ATSC 3.0 platform to create a much richer experience for the viewer.”
Aitken reports a similar experience based on demos Sinclair has been putting on.
“I think we saw this coming out of CES, but it got nailed down at NAB — people understand ATSC 3.0 offers these enhancements, and we as broadcasters have totally new opportunities,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean they know exactly what it is they are going to do, but what they do know is they can do things they never before thought were possible.”