Deborah D. McAdams /
01.09.2014 06:15 PM
McAdams On: Broadcasting, the Next Generation
Objects in the mirror may be closer than they seem
WELL — A U.S. broadcaster demonstrated over-the-air 4KTV distribution at CES in Las Vegas this week. I repeat, a U.S. broadcaster demonstrated over-the-air 4KTV distribution at CES in Las Vegas. It was done with an entirely different system than the one in place now, which was the point. Broadcasting is not only stuck with its 20-year-old technology standard, but also the regulatory constraints that dictate how the spectrum is used.

The regulations that severely limit creativity in the broadcast industry are from the post WWII-era, when spectrum was granted to licensees in return for certain services—just as wireless and satellite TV licenses. Those frequency grants have since been bought and sold such that 90 percent of the TV stations operating today paid for spectrum on the secondary market. Just like satellite TV and wireless providers, which have far more self-determination than broadcasting. Consequently, the broadcast industry is hostage to rules that push it toward obsolescence while being pronounced obsolete by the regulators keeping those rules in place.

This is to the free market what being in a headlock is to ballroom dancing.

Back to the demo. Sinclair leased a low-power station in Las Vegas to do a live 4K feed to the Samsung exhibit in the Las Vegas Convention Center. According to Sinclair’s Mark Aitken, engineers “spent an evening” converting the station to DVB-T2, the TV transmission standard employed in Europe. Using HEVC encoding, the team was able to transmit 4K content at about 27 Mbps, or roughly 30 percent more than the current U.S. broadcast infrastructure bit rate. 
The point of doing a 4KTV broadcast wasn’t merely to demonstrate that 4KTV broadcasting can be done, even though all TVs will soon be 4K. The point of doing the 4KTV broadcast was to demonstrate what can be achieved through flexible use of a TV license with fewer regulatory constraints.

There is virtually no other way for broadcasters to “morph into new entities,” as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put it at CES. Wheeler contends that the spectrum incentive auction is the perfect opportunity for broadcasters to reinvent themselves. It’s also the perfect opportunity for the FCC to reinvent its broadcast regulations so the industry can move ahead and become part of a larger, all-encompassing information exchange system.

“Samsung had satellite, cable, broadcast and IP 4K,” Aitken said. “All of those are platforms that demonstrate the need for a hybrid broadcast platform, or a heterogeneous network… that allows all network-delivered bits to interoperate.”

A HetNet model frees device makers from accommodating various network standards and interfaces. It also frees the rest of us from two-year service contracts and platform siloes.

“The tablet, computer and Internet-aware side of the community is thinking about how to tie all of this content together,” Aitken said. “I think the carrier-device wall will be torn down like the Berlin Wall, driven by consumer desire for more control.”

Smartphones would be provider agnostic, like smart TVs. Users could pick and choose what content and whose service they want at any given time. Surely that’s a public interest lip-lock for the FCC. All it has to do is move aside and let the broadcast industry invent, and put an end to the propaganda that it cannot.

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Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 01-10-2014 12:09 PM Report Comment
Yes. Sorry. Assumed implied. — DMc
Posted by: Charles Wilder
Thu, 01-23-2014 12:28 PM Report Comment
Deborah McAdams, the Mercy Otis Warren of Broadcast.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 01-23-2014 12:58 PM Report Comment
(Googles "Mercy Otis Warren." Thinks, "hmmm, been called much, much worse.")
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 01-10-2014 10:19 AM Report Comment
Brilliant. Thank you! The FCC, with the backing of Congress, has been determined to marginalize broadcast television since well before 1997. In his now infamous address to the Harvard Business School (, Reed Hundt, the former Chair of the FCC (11/93-11/97) gave us a rare glimpse of the climate leading up to the monumental events that shaped Broadcast’s entry into Digital Television. The transition had less to do with moving television forward than it had to do with what Congress and the FCC felt was a threat to democracy. (20:19 “We also thought… that Broadcast had become a threat to democracy.”). They sought to sabotage the effort (12:20 “This is a little naughty… We delayed the transition to HDTV and fought a big battle against the whole idea.”) and simply hoped that Broadcast would go away to solve their problems (19:45 “[The diversity of internet content] represented discrete bodies of legal struggles with broadcast, which we thought would simply be obviated if we moved to internet as the common medium.). If Chairman Wheeler is sincere about his efforts to help the American public, he will turn the heading of the FCC to a course that will actually work to allow broadcast to grow and serve the public as it was intended from the beginning.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 01-10-2014 12:03 PM Report Comment
Deborah you stated that the LPTV test was done at a 27 Mbps rate, but you did not indicate if the test stayed within the allotted 6 MHz of spectrum. I assume they did, correct?
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 01-10-2014 03:26 PM Report Comment
Thank you. Absolutely stunned by the realization that 90% of the b'cast licenses were purchased on the the secondary market. The fact that the act allowed for the remarketing of spectrum allocation enabled the current aggregation of radiators to a half a dozen corporations. The Reed Hunt piece shared by 'anonymous', in which it was felt "that Broadcast had become a threat to democracy" kind of says it all. Time to take a hard look at the rights issues associated with the 2015 spectrum auction to decide whether investments in innovation will produce value (for the innovators).
Posted by: Anonymous
Mon, 01-13-2014 03:32 PM Report Comment
Any reasonably-competent digital RF engineer conversant with 8-VSB (and Mark Aitken CERTAINLY is so qualified) knows that the "actual" emission bit rate of 8-VSB is close to 30 mb/second. (The input to 8-VSB emission encoders is 19.39~ mb/second; the output is >29 mb/second.) "In between" is the bit-to-symbol conversion, and inner and outer forward error correction bits, etc.) The wide difference tends to be greater than that in the world of DVB. The article quotes the DVB-T2 bit rate of 27,000,000 bps. This is just a bit higher than the maximum bit rate in DVB-T. But, is the quoted bit rate the input to the emission encoder, or the bit rate that comes out of the encoder? Mark Aitken would know the answer, and he might even answer such a question.

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