The FCC voted 3-2 Thursday to authorize broadcasters to launch Next Gen ATSC 3.0 operations — and despite the concerns of cable operators, broadcasters will be free to negotiate for carriage of their ATSC 3.0 signals in their retransmission consent negotiations.
Under the rules, must-carry protection would apply only to a broadcaster’s ATSC 1.0 transmission, not its new ATSC 3.0 signal, at least during the simulcasting period the FCC mandates to protect consumers during the transition period.
But the rules adopted also make clear that broadcasters will be free to negotiate retransmission consent deals for carriage of their ATSC 3.0 programming, even during the simulcasting period.
The FCC’s two Democrats dissented, charging that the rules adopted are anti-consumer, in part because they could require consumers eventually to buy new TV equipment to receive the signals over the air.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that the agency majority’s decision to allow broadcasters to require carriage of ATSC 3.0 in their retransmission consent agreements with cable operators “will undoubtedly lead to increased costs to consumers.”
“It’s a tax on every household with a television,” added FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
But Ajit Pai, the FCC’s Republican chairman, said the new regulations are voluntary for broadcasters, and that no consumer will be required to buy a new TV set or dongle to receive Next Gen programming.
“Broadcasters deploying the Next Gen TV standard will be required to simulcast programming using the current digital television standard — in other words, their current viewers, with their current TVs, will be unaffected,” Pai said. “This is precisely the kind of technological innovation the FCC should champion.”
At least according to the new voluntary standard’s proponents, 3.0, which has been in development for more than seven years, is a potential game changer for broadcasters that is designed to enable them to enhance their broadcast abilities and allow them to tap into new business opportunities.
In the interests of protecting over-the-air viewers, the rules would generally require broadcasters who opt to offer 3.0 to partner with other stations in their markets to simulcast 1.0 programming.
The rules would for five years require the programming aired on the 1.0 simulcast channel to be “substantially similar” to the programming aired on the 3.0 channel. This means that the programming must be the same, except for programming features that are based on the enhanced capabilities of 3.0, advertisements, and promotions for upcoming programs, the FCC explained.
The FCC said it has yet to decide how long the simulcasting period should run but it envisions it as a temporary one.
The FCC also said that it would not dictate what format 1.0 simulcasts would have to be broadcast in. In other words, the simulcasts could be in SD rather than HD.
Both commercial and noncommercial broadcasters lauded the FCC majority’s action.
“Next Gen TV will provide tens of millions of viewers with ultra HDTV, live an mobile TV on smartphones, emergency alerting that could save countless lives, and interactive advertising that will drive jobs and commerce in local communities,” said Gordon Smith, NAB president-CEO. “This is a game-changing technology for broadcasters and our viewers, and we thank the visionary leadership of FCC Chairman Pai and his colleagues for their support.
In a news release, Sinclair Broadcast Group and its subsidiary ONE Media 3.0 vowed to roll out ATSC 3.0 nationwide.
“We have advocated for a robust broadcast-centric digital standard since 1997, and we are gratified to see that the ATSC, broadcasters and the government have now agreed to do just that,” said Christopher Ripley, Sinclair president-CEO.
“Today’s action by the FCC heralds a new era in television broadcasting that will benefit both the public and the broadcast industry — certainly including public television stations — in ways we cannot fully foresee,” added Patrick Butler, president-CEO of America’s Public Television Stations, in a statement.
In a news release, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), blasted both the FCC’s ATSC 3.0 and multiple ownership rule decisions. “In gutting the FCC’s media ownership rules, the commission has recklessly promoted the unhealthy consolidation of media ownership and continued paving the way for the Sinclair merger [with Tribune Media],’ Doyle said.
“The commission also dumped a risky new broadcast standard on the American people,” the lawmaker continued. “The new standard won’t work on today’s televisions — and could leave consumers without any access to broadcast TV.”