Next-Gen Broadcasting: What’s In It For You?

Plenty, says a top executive of One Media, one of the companies vying to become the national standard for next-generation digital TV. Broadcasters will finally be able to serve the enormous and growing population that watches programming on portable and mobile devices, bolstering its ad-supported business model. It will also open up new opportunities in targeted advertising and data distribution. Moving to the next-gen standard in conjunction with the repack of the TV band following the incentive auction must become part of our national policy.

Wouldn’t it be cool to sit in the stands of a football game watching the action live, but also listening to the TV commentary and glancing down at your iPad for the glorious high-def, close-up replays with no maddening 20 second, herky-jerky, buffering and no fear of using up your precious minutes on your expensive cell phone data plan — for free?

Or watching the local news for free on your tablet during your metro bus ride home to and from work?

Or sitting on the beach, soaking in the free baseball game along with the sun?

Or finally getting clear, pristine, robust and free over-the-air reception of your favorite shows like Nashville or Empire or The Big Bang Theory or the The Simpsons on your ultra HD, big screen, basement TV set?

“Absolutely, yes! How can I get that?!” That’s the typical response from TV viewers I speak with. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Sadly, you can’t do any of this today. That old Sony Watchman is part of the analog scrap heap. The current DTV broadcast standard was designed for “fixed” TV reception — and even that doesn’t work so well in the basement TV room.  (The cable company conveniently removed your rooftop antenna years ago.)


Significantly, though, these benefits of free, robust, ultra HD and mobile service to daily consumers of plain old television depend on the adoption and launch of a next-generation broadcast transmission standard.

The work of hundreds of engineers coordinated by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is rapidly moving toward a consensus standard with a target to be completed well in advance of the repack of the broadcast channel band required by the upcoming incentive auction. 

When remaining broadcasters are squeezed together in the post-auction TV band, many will need new transmitters and antennas. That new equipment can be engineered to the new ATSC 3.0 standard, serving the harmonized chipsets installed in new fixed and portable devices.  The consumer benefits are clear and clearly on the way.

But what’s in it for broadcasters themselves? Every industry — from food processing to auto manufacturing — upgrades its plants both to meet existing and new competitors and expand business opportunities. After 20 years of a DTV standard ill-suited to the changing habits and options for TV viewers, this upgrade can’t be more timely.

Broadcasters will finally be able to serve the enormous and growing population that watches programming on portable and mobile devices, bolstering its ad-supported business model. At the same time, it opens significant new revenue opportunities for the broadcasters who look to expanding businesses.

Attracting mobile viewers is an absolute imperative to the survival of the broadcast business model. Mobile video consumption will increase 16 times from current levels to account for a whopping two-thirds of all mobile data traffic by 2017. By 2019, more than half of mobile traffic will be video.

To give a sense of how fast that is growing, tablets alone will generate more traffic in 2017 than the entire global mobile network did in 2012. These are viewers who do not now have access to our platform. We need to get them back. And as for a demographic group, only 55% of millennials (highly sought after by our advertisers) use plain old TVs as their primary viewing platform. We absolutely must capture them as well, if we want our platform to survive and grow. 

The next-gen standard not only empowers broadcasters to play in this mobile arena, but also helps solve the knotty, existential problem created by the incentive auction for low-power and translator stations relied on by so many broadcasters and audiences today.

In the zeal to free up spectrum capacity for cell phone use, the “expendable detritus” are the hundreds of LPTV/translators that will be stranded as completely “unprotected” in the new order. In other words, they’re gone. Their audiences will be left without programming, without public safety warnings and community notifications.  Hyper-local programming options along with the ability to stretch station signals to remote parts of DMAs will be lost to those who need the local programming the most.

Fortunately, the next-gen standard offers a way out. Single Frequency Networks can use the features of the new standard to reuse the exact same main broadcast channel on multiple towers. Rather than “translate” the signal on a different channel, broadcasters can use their existing frequencies to provide this service. Just as the mobile carriers reuse channels, the LPTV stations can also optimize spectrum and provide needed services.

This addressable frequency reuse capability also enables stations to provide “zone” over-the-air broadcast programming and ads in the same way cable systems do today. The addressable capability of the next-gen standard allows bits to be uniquely coded as they enter the transmission stream. Unlike the single transport stream of today’s standard, next-gen allows for multiple carriers of different coded data. The codes can be targeted to specific relay transmitters in the Single Frequency Network chain that only retransmit the identified bits paired with that transmitter. The result: unique geographically defined programming.

How attractive would that option be in hyphenated markets or those markets straddling state lines? The ability to zone political ads in and of itself is a compelling business motivator. Different programming (hyper local) and different ads equal new marketing opportunities. If we wish to add value to our stations through capabilities such as targeted advertising (geographically, individually or otherwise), only a next-gen approach will get us there.

Apart from plain old television (the new “POTs”), the next-gen standard offers other options for broadcasters.  Flexible use of the channel means provisioning non-broadcast services that are perfect candidates for our extraordinarily efficient one-to-many architecture.  Even the government recognized this nascent possibility by including a way for it to skim 5% off the top of revenue from these new non-broadcast applications.

From optional automobile services (like real-time navigation system map/traffic updates) to distance learning to real estate to e-books distribution to localized weather alerts to health care notifications to critical public safety apps to digital outdoor signage supply, there are a myriad of services awaiting exploitation.  Providing a transmission backbone to the explosion of the Internet of Things is reason enough for broadcasters to demand this new capability.

Because the current standard does not support mobile/portable reception or deep-building penetration, its use of data uses is severely limited. The next-gen standard overcomes these limits and permits new uses confined only by the imagination of broadcasters.

With support from the largest group broadcasters, adoption of the next-gen standard will permit expansion of the broadcast business model, while station owners fulfill, as they have always done, their public interest responsibilities integral to their licenses — and fulfill them in a way that no other TV medium can.

Moving to the next-gen standard in conjunction with the repack of the broadcast band must become part of our national policy. It makes absolutely no sense commercially or from a public policy perspective to make broadcasters change antennas, towers and transmitters twice when it can be easily done once. There is $1.75 billion set aside in the Incentive Auction to do just that.

So what’s in it for you? The viewer finally gets free, ultra-high-definition, deep-building, mobile (pedestrian and vehicular) and other new services. Broadcasters get access to a vital and growing audience — long denied to them, the ability to extend, target and zone their programming and ads, and gain access to a plethora of other service opportunities all while getting the government to defray the equipment transition costs.

What the heck is not to like about the next-gen standard? Let’s get this done — NOW!

Jerry Fritz is EVP of strategic and legal affairs for ONEMedia, one of several technology companies vying to have its next-gen transmission system adopted as the national standard by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. ONEMedia is a joint venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Coherent Logix. Fritz can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (19)

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Gregg Palermo says:

March 19, 2015 at 8:51 am

20 years? The DTV standard may be that old, but it wasn’t implemented until until 2009. That’s only six years. Pretty hard to justify the expense of a fancy car that runs for just six years. As slowly as broadcasters move, stations will be completely irrelevant regardless of ATSC 3.0 (or 2.0, depending on which codec is decided after endless, life-sucking, death-inducing debate)

    Trudy Handel says:

    March 19, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Most stations were operating DTV as early as 2003, even if analog was still running in 2009.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    March 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    “…no maddening 20 second, herky-jerky, buffering and no fear of using up your precious minutes on your expensive cell phone data plan” – Jerry Fritz described the experience of mobile video streaming perfectly. This is the world of television viewing Rust wants to subject consumers to while hoping that terrestrial TV gets kicked to the curb. Fat chance. The earliest record that I can find for the development of 8VSB is 1996 with the FCC testing the technology in 1998-99. So, yes, 8VSB is about 20 years old now. Of course, if we’re including MPEG 2 in this history then we have to go back to 1994 when it was formally approved.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    March 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    So it’s safe to say that ATSC 1.0 is a standard based on 20 year old technology. An update is long overdue.

Jim Church says:

March 19, 2015 at 9:06 am

While I appreciate the intent of the article, and agree with most of its’ points about the next-gen standard and how it needs to be implemented, and the benefits that it does provide, I need to disagree with the major LPTV point Jerry is making. He says…”In the zeal to free up spectrum capacity for cell phone use, the “expendable detritus” are the hundreds of LPTV/translators that will be stranded as completely “unprotected” in the new order. In other words, they’re gone.” Now Jerry’s big claim to fame is his decades of being a lawyer in DC with a full power broadcaster, and his three stints at the FCC. So it is surprising that he gets the big LPTV legal issues all wrong. LPTV, while many yes will be stranded, will NOT however lose their licenses. They have the ROD, the Right of Displacement which means they have the legal right to go hunting for a new channel assignment. And with 3.0 and single frequency networks, they actually may have better coverage with the power of the tower to the edge of the contour. So, the legal guy gets the LPTV legal issue wrong, but he does get the tech issues correct. The LPTV community appreciates One Media thinking of us as part of its’ planned way cool 3.0 system. But lets’ get the LPTV legal issues correct – we are not going anywhere except to new channels, and with 3.0.

Matt Newman says:

March 19, 2015 at 9:18 am

LPTV status as a secondary service has always been the case. The repacking will force some stations to low band VHF, a place where few full power stations will accept. The issue is simply, who pays for the LPTV repacking?

    Jim Church says:

    March 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    LPTV is fighting for relo money, but it will have to be what is left after the primaries use the $1.75 billion they already have allocated. And even that will need Congressional approval. You need to rethink the VHF question. With moving to the V’s an alternative for auction eligible stations, and still getting a payday in the auction, many of them are now actively considering the move. And that is good for LPTV, in that any move to the V frees up a UHF channel for LPTV.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 19, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    No, it frees up a UHF to be auctioned off.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    March 19, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Fortunately, ATSC 3.0 works very well on VHF. At the recent LPTV workshop, Bill Lake indicated that if the new standard could be presented to the FCC early enough, LPTV stations could repack with it. So far, it looks like 3.0 will be finalized and presented about the time the auction begins.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    March 19, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Unless the FCC adopts the Variable Band Plan, Mike has it right. There WILL be low UHF channels available for LD stations in many DMAs. The word on the street is that a lot of Class A owners want to cash out and turn in their licenses. I know of two in my DMA who have said that they will participate in the auction if given the chance. That’s potentially two less stations I will be competing with for channel displacement. Plus, if ATSC 3.0 is adopted that means even more stations can be repacked into remaining UHF spectrum.

Bill Evans says:

March 19, 2015 at 10:29 am

Mobile pad and phone reception will only work IF the manufacturers and cell companies agree to open up that capability. As an example look at the battle going on now with all the phones that have the “FM Chip” but it’s not enabled. Cell companies will have the ability to do one-to-many and free TV is now a competitor.

As far as SFN’s go, where will the towers come from to hold those antennas? Can a TV station in the middle markets afford to go out, find a location acquire all the permits and blessing of the community to put up their own towers? The other option is to lease space on cell towers – again, the same people that view free broadcast TV as a competitor.

Grace PARK says:

March 19, 2015 at 11:14 am

The author states that this will be the “survival of the broadcast business model.” This is naive, for this “model” is exactly why people are escaping to other options. Broadcasting gave up its moral high ground when it turned Prime Time into 60 minutes of ads and other marketing. Time is the new currency, folks, and that does not bode well for protecting any business model that kicks against its pricks. Moreover, the assumption here is that everybody will race out a purchase new devices that are digital broadcast enabled, and that’s unlikely given the adversarial relationship between broadcasters and viewers who no longer wish to be their captives. Oh, the benefits listed in the article are nice, but any honest analysis of business prospects demands the downsides, too, and I’m afraid they are enormous.

Wagner Pereira says:

March 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Even with ATSC 3.0, the opening line “Wouldn’t it be cool to sit in the stands of a football game watching the action live, but also listening to the TV commentary”, one will not be able to accomplish that in “real time” that will make it a reality that anyone would end up using for more than 1 or 2 plays until they give up on it.

Bo Inscho says:

March 19, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Most of you are missing the point here. Rather than criticize the writer for his football example, the larger issue remain that if broadcast TV does not continue to evolve it will become the AM radio of the video era. Local television is closing in on 70 years old and habits have again changed dramatically in the past 6 years and that snowball is rolling down the hill very fast. Who cares how long the current standard has been in place, when you are fighting a war and your aircraft is getting shot out of the sky, you don’t worry about the depreciation on your war planes before you build better ones. Broadcasters are a spoiled lot, made way too much money, and it was way too easy. TV will quickly become the print industry unless it set standards and stops playing “catch-up”.

Phyllis Heyburn says:

March 19, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I agree, in principle, with indytvowner’s comment. To look at ATSC 3.0 as a broadcast TV standards is missing the point. Instead, ATSC 3.0 may be the way out for those station owners who are interested to evolve their business into new arenas. Does anyone think that whoever bids for the spectrum is planning to use it (exclusively) for OTA TV service as we have known it for decades past? No doubt there will be video streaming over those airwaves, whatever and whoever end up using it for commercial purposes. But it’ll probably not be transmitting ATSC 1.0 even if they can buy towers and antennas on the used equipment markets.

Gary Kanofsky says:

March 19, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Pigs will grow wings and fly before the mobile device providers include any ATSC mobile reception capability in the products they make for the wireless carriers. How is that MDTV working for you? I am not sure how much of broadcast TV will survive after the wireless carriers start LTE broadcasting. The FCC could mandate the ATSC mobile capability in wireless devices, but will they?

    Wagner Pereira says:

    March 19, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Of course they will not. Look at Wheeler’s testimony yesterday on the Hill on the issue just getting FM Chips activated in Smartphones that have been in the phones for years: they are a “good idea” and he’s happy to see them in a growing number of handsets. But as more phones have activated FM chips, it is better for the FCC to stick with a hands-off approach and allow market forces to play out. No, the chances of getting an ATSC chip in the smartphones… have better chances of a perfect NCAA Finals Basketball Bracket.

Jim Church says:

March 19, 2015 at 4:02 pm

the MAIN ADVANTAGE for 3.0 for LPTV is that it means we can be repacked with OFDM-based interference masks which means a much better repacking, and a lot more channel choices. Never mind the throughput increases. We really do not care for the next few years about the bells and whistles.

Stephanie Harrison says:

March 22, 2015 at 9:55 am

Point to Multi-Point, non-real time Content Delivery Networks are the future OTA model. Nobody can do it cheaper than “TV broadcasters” while having an established platform to promote (advertise) this new service too.