Pearl, APTS Eager To Push ATSC 3.0 At FCC

The Pearl consortium of several large commercial TV station groups and the Association of Public Television Stations are expected to take the lead asking for FCC approval of the next-gen transmission standard. They want to "sync up" the transition to it with the forced migration to new channels that many stations may have to make if the FCC's incentive auction of TV spectrum is successful next spring.

Major commercial and noncommercial broadcasters are planning to ask the FCC to bless key parts of a new ATSC 3.0 standard early next year — more than a year before the Advanced Television Systems Committee is slated to approve the entire standard itself, according to informed sources.

The Pearl consortium of several large commercial TV station groups and the Association of Public Television Stations are expected to take the lead in petitioning the FCC because they want to “sync up” the transition to the new standard with the forced migration to new channels that many stations may have to make if the FCC’s incentive auction of TV spectrum is successful next spring, the sources say.

Pearl and APTS are at the forefront because the National Association of Broadcasters has been sidelined by a lack of consensus on the new standard.

The Big Four networks want the association to keep a low profile on the issue, at least for the time being, while other NAB members argue that it would be premature to file at the FCC before ATSC 3.0 becomes final, sources said.

“They [NAB] are effectively neutered,” said an industry source close to the issue.

Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said in response: “NAB and a large number of individual broadcasters are actively involved in the ATSC process and are excited about the progress being made.”


Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl, a coalition of broadcasters whose members include Hearst Television, Graham Media and Media General, declined comment as did a representative of APTS.

The sense of urgency among some TV industry executives is being driven partly by the fact that a number of stations —as many as a 1,000 — may have to move to new channels after the incentive auction, in which the FCC hopes to buy spectrum from broadcasters and then sell it to wireless carriers.

Moving to new channels in what has come to be called the repacking on the TV band would require buying costly new transmission systems — antennas, transmitters and associated equipment.

If the new ATSC 3.0 standard is not in place before the repack, some stations may have replace some of the newly installed transmission gear when 3.0 is finally approved and implemented.

“Giving broadcasters, who will be updating their facilities [for the repack], the option of including next-gen capabilities is both wise public policy and an important competitive boost with positive benefits for our industry and our viewers,” said Jerald Fritz,  EVP of ONE Media, an ATSC 3.0 proponent backed by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The door for initial FCC consideration of 3.0 was opened by the ATSC’s Sept. 29 announcement that a technology group had promoted ATSC 3.0’s critical transmission component, or physical layer, to “candidate” status.

Before adopting a new final standard, the ATSC first designates a proposed standard to a so-called candidate standard. A candidate standard usually includes the key technical parts of a standard, which is then made available for industry testing and review.

If industry testing reveals critical technological shortcomings, tweaks will be made in the standard, and subsequent votes will be held before a final standard is established.

The candidate period for the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard is set to close next April 4.

Under the ATSC’s current timeline, a committee vote on all of the parts of a final standard is not expected until sometime in 2017.

Although the final 3.0 standard is more than a year away, some proponents argue that the FCC’s review of the standard can begin now because the key parts of the new standard that are of most concern to the agency have already been established.

The industry’s 3.0 FCC petition, according to sources, will include much of the technical analysis that the agency usually needs to consider when approving a new standard.

“Sending the physical layer to candidate standard clears the way for the FCC to adopt new rules for the broadcast service,” said ONE Media’s Fritz.

“We’ve got enough done now that the FCC could make some preliminary analysis and decisions about the technology,” said another source close to the issue.

In an effort to avoid ruffling FCC feathers, industry sources said that they are likely to hold off on filing a petition seeking approval of the transmission component of the 3.0 standard until after the application deadline for broadcasters who want to sell their channels in the 2016 auction passes at the end of this year.

Some broadcast executives are concerned that FCC officials, who view the incentive auction as a major priority, might perceive an earlier 3.0 filing as a potential impediment to station auction participation.

3.0 proponents say the new standard could provide a major boost to TV station values by clearing the way for mobile broadcasting, targeted advertising and new data businesses.

A new standard is expected to generate billions of dollars in royalty fees for companies with patented technologies in 3.0 — including ONE Media, Samsung and LG Electronics.

But 3.0 proponents still need to get federal approval to use the new technology and implement a transition plan to minimize disruption for millions of consumers who watch broadcast TV off air. 3.0 signals will not be compatible with the hundreds of millions of TV sets now in use.

It’s unclear what kind of reception a Pearl-APTS petition would receive at the FCC.

In a speech during the NAB Show in Las Vegas last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the FCC would be “ready and responsive when the standard is completed.”

However, neither Wheeler nor any of the other commissioners has spoken of the standard since. “Nobody at the FCC is pushing for ATSC 3.0, but they’ve made clear they’re not going to stand in the way,” said one 3.0 proponent.

Comments (18)

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Don Thompson says:

October 7, 2015 at 8:35 am

I read this story and Tweeted it, so expect varsity media pick up. A good idea for the Friday column: Why won’t the media report that ATSC 3.0 will cost taxpayers $2 billion for a converter box program and cost pay-TV providers bandwidth to carry @nabtweets and the TV cashcasters in, very likely, 3 different formats for at least a decade. Please follow me on Twitter @TedAtACA.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 7, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Because IF 3.0 is given the green light and IF Congress passes a converter box program, it will cost taxpayers nothing. As occurred in the DTV transition, money for the converter box program came from the auction proceeds and went directly into a fund set up for the program. Taxpayers didn’t pay a dime. No taxpayers were harmed in the implementation of the converter box program. The auction winners paid for it all. If anything, taxpayers benefited by receiving a $35.00 coupon. No doubt, the same thing will happen again. This is such a non-issue, Ted, that it’s laughable. You’re grasping at straws.

    Maria Black says:

    October 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    “i read this story and Tweeted it, so expect varsity media pick up.” Wow, egotistical much? And “varsity media”? Really? Like, as in the professionals or the “big boys”? Uhm, no, they aren’t interested in something that isn’t happening unless they are going to scare people, and there’s nothing to scare people with. And the media won’t report your crazy babble because its the ravings of a man wearing a tinfoil hat. 3 different formats for at least a decade? No, not really. This landscape is changing and the pace is not something your henny penny comments can predict. When a format war is won by a game console choosing Blue Ray, there is a lot of room for change that no one expects.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    And don’t worry, Ted. Cable Cash-casters will be able to rise (or in your case stoop) to the occasion and integrate ATSC 3.0 into their operation. After all, cable companies whined and moaned about the DTV transition and swore they couldn’t bring multiple channels of HD to cable and, yet, look at what they’ve accomplished. It isn’t advances in technology that should worry you about cable, it’s the reputation for terrible customer service that should concern you and the ACA.

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Cost nothing??? Doubtful… I’d say by the time 3.0 comes along, the current auction will long be over and the money will be spent by Congress. So going back to the question again, who will pay for all the converters that viewers will need? Ted Hearn’s posts certainly are “in your face” but what he’s saying is valid. Will U.S. taxpayers have to pick up the tab for this new “transition?”

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Coming from someone who runs a local cable TV channel and is not a licensed broadcaster and therefore has no skin in the game, I would expect a question like this as well as supporting the ACA. First, this whole thing is speculative. We have no idea whether the FCC will approve the standard or that Congress will approve of another converter box program. But should they do so, don’t you think legislators can find 2 Billion out of the over 60 Billion from the incentive auction to pay for it? That is what is being projected as the proceeds from the auction. And as I’ve said for the millionth time, taxpayers will benefit from such a program. They will get a coupon that will give them either a free converter or one at a reduced cost–as they did last time. And they will be able to continue to enjoy free TV (and any new services ATSC 3.0 permits) instead of having to pay outrageous amounts of money for cable and satellite. My concern as a broadcaster is the lack of companion channels that will be needed for the transition to 3.0. I suspect the transition will get messy. Your concern, as a cable-caster, should be developing another business strategy as more people cut the cord and drop cable TV.

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Sure it’s speculative. We don’t know exactly what will happen. But it seems highly unlikely that the FCC will approve the standard in time to be linked to this auction. Of course, I could be wrong. Congress would also have to make changes as to where the auction proceeds will go. And if they were inclined to parse out more of the proceeds they likely would be looking at reimbursing LPTV stations for all the changes they will be required to make in the repack. At this moment, it doesn’t sound promising that even that will happen. And surely a licenses broadcaster like yourself can’t believe that companion channels will ever be possible – the smaller core of channels will count that out. You can say it a few million time more, but it’s only your opinion that taxpayers would benefit from a new converter box program. It’s not the auction participants who ultimately will be paying, it’s the taxpayers (see comments in following post). Using your logic, there should be many government-funded ways which taxpayers can be helped… the ACA probably could argue that the government should fund a set-top converter program for cable. After all, if small cable ops were able to convert to fully digital, they could provide more channels and use more bandwidth for broadband services. See how this works… every business can make an argument for an industry bailout.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 12, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Uh, well, since taxpayers who requested them actually did receive converter box coupons the last time, I would hardly call it “my opinion” to say that taxpayers didn’t benefit from the program and wouldn’t benefit from such a program in the future. Your comparison with a similar cable converter box program doesn’t make any sense since the cable cash-casters charge customers a subscription fee for their service and in most cases a cable box rental fee as well. Why should cable cash-casters be subsidized when they can simply pass on their costs to their customers? Over the air TV, on the other hand, is entirely free, which makes it one of last great bargains for consumers. Broadcasters don’t charge consumers a penny to receive their programming. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to Obama, Wheeler, Rosenworcel, you and the ACA but it means a lot to people who can’t afford the exorbitant fees of the cable cash-casters or are sick and tired of their bad customer service. Ultimately, though, this issue should matter to every American since what Obama, Wheeler et al are attempting to do with this auction is choke off free TV by selling the public airwaves to the highest bidders. In the end, all Americans will be at the mercy of the telcos and cable cash-casters as they extort higher fees for their services. There will be no free alternative.

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 13, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    You say “Broadcasters don’t charge consumers a penny to receive their programming.” Only true if a viewers get their programming over the air. Not true for the 80 to 85 % of viewers who see it on cable or satellite. They pay broadcasters for that supposedly free broadcast programming. (Public broadcasters being the exception.)

    Boiled down, you simply want the U.S. taxpayers to once again subsidize your business plan – and it will be against their will. Since 80 – 85% of TV viewers choose to be on cable/satellite, such a subsidy will not benefit them, only the minority of OTA viewers.

    By the way, your hatred of cable tells me that you’re likely a low power “broadcaster” who can’t get Must-Carry rights… you should have probably done a little more research before jumping into a business you believed had a “license to print money.”

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Cry me a river. Cable pays only about one fifth of one percent of their revenue to broadcasters. This has been such a hardship to Cable cash-casters that last year, TWC’s revenue ballooned to over 20 billion. Obviously, you and the ACA believe that it’s OK for cable to make money off of broadcast television, a boatload of it, without compensating broadcasters. Sounds to me that if anyone is looking for a subsidy, you and the Cable cash-casters are. Too bad. Congress passed the 1992 Cable Act and you’re stuck with it. As for my decision to become a broadcaster, I knew exactly what I was doing. Cable carriage or lack of it did not enter the picture (nor did the tired canard “a license to print money” which went out in the 80’s) and I absolutely don’t regret my decision. If I were you, I’d be more worried about my local cable channel business model since more and more consumers a leaving cable TV behind.

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 13, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Who’s crying? I’m not, but you certainly are. You’re the one who suggested the need for a government subsidy, not me. And you still haven’t shown why U.S. taxpayers should subsidize this proposed format change. What will 80 to 85% of taxpayers get out of it? Nothing, except money out of the U.S. Treasury which could have been used for other projects. Also, I’ve never suggest that broadcasters shouldn’t be paid for their programming, just that it’s so tiring to hear you beat your chests about free programming when it isn’t free for cable/satellite subscribers. But we all know how it is, broadcasters always want their cake and eat it too… a free slice of bandwidth, laws which force carriage in multiple formats, the right to have monopoly network programming… You may think so, but I’m no friend of big cable, but what special interest laws to they have? As for how much TWC made, most of it probably came from broadband services which is mostly where cable makes money these days… what does that have to do with broadcasting?? Nothing. You haven’t answered anything. Why should U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for your new business plan?

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 13, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    And back at ya’. You haven’t proven to me that taxpayers who sign up for a free government program, whether its a coupon for a free converter box or a cash back rebate or something, don’t benefit. Only taxpayers who don’t sign up, don’t benefit. Plus these programs usually have a deadline, the converter box coupon program did. If the money isn’t entirely spent after the deadline passes, it goes into the treasury to be spent elsewhere. Then you really dig the bottom of the barrel with another tired cliche about broadcasters and their “free spectrum.” Nonsense. Broadcasters pay for that spectrum in yearly usage fees, auxiliary services fees and even at auction. When stations are sold, the new owners absolutely pay for that spectrum along with the license to use it. I can’t believe your two-face gall. You get on one forum asking broadcasters questions about automation and video streaming systems they’re using. Then you come here and dis broadcasters for trying to stay in business just so you can cozy up to Ted and his phony ACA. Amazing!

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 13, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Roger (or should I say Danny Boy, the guy who couldn’t sell a single advertisement on his LPTV station) try not to make everything personal, OK. Just because you couldn’t make it in the TV business and had to sell out, doesn’t mean you have to be so angry. I know you think it’s all the FCC’s fault, the cable company’s fault, etc. that you didn’t make your dream station work but there could be other reasons (like not having programming other than 1950 cartoons…) Perhaps you should have taken into consideration that your LPTV station was not eligible for Must-Carry before you invested you savings into it. But with you it’s always everyone else’s fault. That certainly came out in the other forum, where you and the late “Tin Foil Hat Man” constantly complained and never added anything useful. Luckily, I’ve met a lot of good broadcasters on that forum, they’ve helped me and, in turn, I’ve helped them. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean I agree with all practices that go on in the broadcast industry, and I’ve always been plain spoken about such. I’ve been just as plain spoken about what goes on in the cable industry, too.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 13, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Not to disappoint you, Jony boy, but the station is doing just fine and I still manage it. In fact, we’ve added a couple more channels. Thanks for asking. Now why don’t you go back to your pathetic little cable channel in Nowhere, GA and program it. Mustn’t disappoint your viewers–all two of them.

Don Thompson says:

October 7, 2015 at 11:50 am

Let’s see: $2 billion into Treasury from spectrum auction and then $2 billion from the same taxpayers’ Treasury given to NTIA to fund the DTV converter box program mean taxpayers didn’t fund DTV converter box program. I like your math. Just a guess: Are you the retired CFO of Eastman Kodak? Please follow me on Twitter @TedAtACA

    Wagner Pereira says:

    October 7, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Nice try, but Auction 73 raised $19.592 Billion. In fact Verizon and AT&T bill $16.3 Billion alone. Good thing you do not work with numbers! Perhaps YOU are the retired CFO of Enron! Please follow me on Twitter @NotTedAtACA

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    October 11, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    You’ve missed his point entirely. It’s irrelevant how much money the auction raised. The proceeds, whatever they may have been, went into the Treasury. Then $2 billions was spent on converter boxes. You can say the auction bidders paid for the conversion box program. But if there was no converter box program, the U.S. taxpayers would have had $2 billion more in the treasury. It’s like selling a house for $200,000 but to do so it will take $50,000 in repairs and improvements. You can say that the buyer “paid” for the improvements, but you’re still left with $150,000.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    October 12, 2015 at 5:46 am

    Nope, his point was the Treasury made no money off the auction, which is incorrect.

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