Sinclair Developing Next-Gen TV Standard

Spearheaded by Mark Aitken, Sinclair's VP of advanced technology, the new "broadcast-centric"  transmission standard is being designed to address an issue Sinclair feels is being left out of ATSC's efforts: the ability to reach viewers on their mobile devices. “ATSC 3.0 ought to be whatever broadcasters want it to be,” Aitken says. “This process should be about bringing broadcasters to the table for a solution, rather than having it dictated to them by TV set manufacturers."

Not happy with the direction that the Advanced Television Systems Committee is taking in the development of a new broadcast transmission standard it has dubbed ATSC 3.0, Sinclair Broadcast Group is now pushing for an alternative “broadcast-centric” standard.

Sinclair’s system is the subject of “very fertile discussions” among broadcasters, says Mark Aitken, Sinclair’s VP of advanced technology. Its focus is giving TV broadcasters the tools needed to do “what is in the best interest of television broadcasters,” he says.

If all goes well, Aitken says, the system could be ready within a year.

Aitken, the 2013 recipient of ATSC’s Bernard J. Lechner Outstanding Contributor Award, says the next-gen system must have the ability to reach viewers on their mobile devices as well as on their big screens at home.

Aitken’s principal concern is that the makers of the big screens have too much influence in the ATSC process.

“ATSC 3.0 ought to be whatever broadcasters want it to be,” he says. “This process should be about bringing broadcasters to the table for a solution, rather than having it dictated to them by TV set manufacturers.


“There is a discrepancy between the interests of broadcasters and set manufacturers. For too long, the focus has been on the big screens in the living room. That is an important piece in America, but it may come as a surprise to some that Americans are consuming content outside the living room.”

Aitken also says the ATSC is also not sufficiently attuned to the business interests of broadcasting. “This is a discussion that can’t go on at ATSC because ATSC doesn’t have a place to discuss business opportunities. It is a cut-and-dried standards body. The business components and opportunities never happen at ATSC.”

Sinclair, together with Coherent Logix, a specialist in software-defined receiver technology, is among the 13 groups that have submitted proposals to for the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard. Most of the proposals are based on OFDM modulation schemes.

“We put forward our view of the world [in the ATSC process]. We aren’t being listened to; Ericsson isn’t being listened to; and Qualcomm is not being listened to. This is because of a fundamentally different view about the future of television.”

Aitken insists his “greenfield” approach is not “sour grapes,” but rather an effort to position broadcasting as a robust wireless digital delivery technology for the future.

According to ATSC, the chair of the ATSC specialist group (TG3-S32) tasked with assessing and possibly recommending technical proposals for ATSC 3.0’s physical layer is Luke Fay, an employee of Sony, a TV set vendor; while the chair of the specialist group (TG3-S33) responsible for technical assessing proposals related to the part of the standard dealing with management and delivery of ATSC 3.0 services and metadata via terrestrial TV and potentially broadband networks is Youngkwon Lim, a Samsung employee.

Aitken says other broadcasters share his sentiments and that the ongoing discussion of developing a future digital television system outside ATSC is broad based.

One broadcaster that Aitken identifies as an ally is Brett Jenkins, VP and chief technology officer of LIN Media. But Jenkins says that while he shares some of Aitken’s concerns, he is not prepared to give up on the ATSC.

“There absolutely is a recognition among industry players from broadcasters to consumer electronics manufacturers that the world has changed since the first ATSC was released,” Jenkins says. “You better believe that is a big piece of what informs the conversation about ATSC 3.0 development.”

However, he added, if ATSC publishes a standard broadcasters can’t live with, “we won’t settle for that.”

Mark Richer, president of ATSC, says Aitken’s assessment of the process is a mischaracterization. “How broadcasters intend to use this [ATSC 3.0] is absolutely being discussed and discussed in detail,” Richer says. “We consider business use cases, which impact on technology choices,” he adds. “So obviously, we have to know what we are trying to accomplish with the technology. We just don’t put technology out there for technology’s sake.”

Despite Aitken’s criticism of the ATSC process, Richer says he welcomes Aitken’s effort. It’s another input into the development of ATSC 3.0 that will ultimately make the standard stronger, he says.

ATSC anticipates it will have an ATSC 3.0 “candidate” standard by the spring of 2015. After weighing the comments and making any necessary changes, ATSC expects to progress to a “proposed” standard and a final vote in the first quarter of 2016. After that, it will be ready to go to the FCC for adoption as a national standard.

While Aitken declines to offers details about his new digital television system, he says “people will know it when it makes its first appearance” in less than a year.

Aitken acknowledges it is unclear exactly how a new system can win FCC approval without the imprimatur of ATSC and support of the National Association of Broadcasters. But he says he is confident the alternative system will appeal to broadcasters eager to capitalize on new revenue opportunities as well as regulators who are focused on making the 2015 auction of TV spectrum a success.

“Can we make this happen in a viable way that provides broadcasters with the tools they need to better conduct the business they are in and make the most effective use of the spectrum?” Aitken asks. “Can we bring tools to the table that make spectrum reclamation cleaner, tools to mitigate interference and that will make repacking tighter? I think over the next several months this will become an open discussion.”

Comments (6)

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Andrea Rader says:

January 23, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Whatever people think of Sinclair, they are leaders when it comes to standing up for broadcasters on the standards front. Imagine how much more robust the current ATSC standard would have been if they had been listened to the last time around. Broadcasters need to close ranks around Mark Aitken and his allies to push for the best deal possible.

Ellen Samrock says:

January 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm

This all sounds great and I’m all for it, etc. But at some point they’re going to have to bring the ATSC and CE manufacturers on board or Sinclair’s proposal goes nowhere, especially with the FCC. From looking at the ATSC website on 3.0 it seems that the committee wants all these things for broadcast television too so I’m not sure where the conflict is.

Andrea Rader says:

January 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Aitken knows from bitter experience that broadcasters don’t have the same clout that CE manufacturers have at the ATSC; that’s why we got stuck with an inferior standard.

Cheryl Daly says:

January 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

In the meantime, broadcasters could do a little better job of fully implementing the features of the current ATSC version, like the EPG. As a strictly over-the-air viewer, I commend Tribune for carrying ThisTV and Antenna TV on secondary channels in my market. But as of last spring, the electronic program guide that is embedded in the signal stopped providing synopses of the episodes and movies on Antenna TV as well as the shows on the primary channel, Fox. The EPG for ThisTV can only be advanced about six hours before “No Information” is displayed instead of movie titles and synopses. A more complete guide would help me select which programming to timeshift with my over-the-air, no-monthly-fee DVR. A polite email to the chief engineer failed to restore the program descriptions in the guide, which were provided for years until their sudden disappearance. The two PBS stations that I receive do the best job with the EPG, successfully accomplishing one of the goals of the original ATSC.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    January 23, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    In this case, the fault is on Weigel’s part not the affiliate station. That may explain why you heard nothing from the CE.

Nick Athanassiadis says:

January 24, 2014 at 9:57 am

There were, and still are, many past, current and future opportunities and markets to tap for the traditional over the air broadcaster. In order to succeed it requires joining forces at all levels (ATSC, NAB and CEA) – with a commonality and harmony that will continue to promote the extension of OTA broadcast. So many chances were passed by in the decade since DTV was born. Please Kkeep moving forward!

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