— 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
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.