3.0 Is ‘Next-Gen Salvation’ of TV Industry, Says ARK Mediacom CEO

Vern Fotheringham envisions 3.0 alternative for OTT home delivery and much more
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DALLAS—A new company with hundreds of LPTV stations and CPs is pinning its hopes for a vibrant, profitable broadcast industry on ATSC 3.0.

ARK Mediacom CEO Vern Fotheringham

ARK Mediacom CEO Vern Fotheringham

Specifically, ARK Mediacom is hoping to leverage the inherent one-to-many strength of broadcasting and reliable wireless IP delivery via the OFDM-based Next-Gen TV standard to become an affordable last-mile alternative for OTT providers to reach the home and data to reach vehicles in the future.

In late September, the company performed a proof-of-concept test with the assistance of Hitachi Kokusai Electric Comark in Southwick, Mass., designed to evaluate the connectivity and integration of all elements needed to deploy an ATSC 3.0 service. Comark is serving as system integrator with 13 technology companies providing products and services for the test.

On Oct. 11, religious broadcaster IBN television announced its test of the ARK 5G Broadcast Network.

In an interview with TV Technology Contributing Editor Phil Kurz, ARK Mediacom CEO Vern Fotheringham discusses the initial test, a broader-based trial slated to begin sometime in Q1 2019, how broadcasters can leverage ATSC 3.0 to grow into OTT delivery and new wireless data delivery services and the need to address challenges like intercarrier operations, billing, settlement and roaming in broadcasting to support a nationwide IP data delivery service to vehicles.

(An edited transcript.)

TVTechnology: What is ARK Mediacom?

Vern Fotheringham: It’s a new company, the go-to-market brand that we’ve created as the service delivery platform spinning up from Edge Spectrum Inc.

Edge Spectrum Inc. is the company we’ve operated under. It’s the broadcast holder of 283 television assets—145 licenses and the balance are construction permits [CPs] we intend to build here in the third phase of the repack and the displacement process. We are primarily a low-power TV licensee.

We launched ARK Mediacom in July as our publicly facing brand, and it is a broadcasting entity that’s leveraging all of the wonderful things that broadcasting has always been with linear TV services, but most important for us, we are leveraging the new capabilities of ATSC 3.0, ultimately to deliver one to millions IP multicasting.

TVT: ARK Mediacom announced a recent test of using 3.0 to deliver last mile service over-the-air for OTT providers and more broadly datacasting IP packets to consumers. What’s broadcasting’s role here?

VF: At the highest level, we are adding a multicasting extension to the unicast internet. For the first time with the new standard, we literally can be integrated seamlessly into the internet.

The internet has evolved as a one-to-one-based service with remote data centers hosting multiple layers of networks transmitting information across the core of the internet to whatever first and last mile distribution network, always subsidized by the public at their own expense.

ATSC 3.0 offers an interesting opportunity for broadcasting to reassert itself with its unique advantage of one to millions. You marry that up against what’s happening in the over-the-top video world.

It’s literally a world where 95 percent of the downloads are about 5 percent of the titles. That’s a broadcasting paradise. We were made for that mission.

TVT: So, you envision offering an alternative to traditional ISPs when it comes to delivering OTT content.

VF: By offloading the vast majority of the most commonly replicated video content into a broadcast-based offload network, we bypass all of that one-to-one connectivity from remote data centers, third party transiting and the consumer’s first and last mile network.

TVT: Your press announcement refers to this as the "ARK 5G Broadcast Network." Why 5G?

VF: When we call ourselves part of 5G, I believed that it is absolutely essential for the broadcast industry, just like the satellite industry, to raise its hand and say, “Hey, we are part of 5G, too, everybody.”

5G, the next generation of telecom and infrastructure, is a heterogeneous combination of networks, of which we are one.

We the broadcasters really need to put our flag on the flagpole and say we are part of this evolution, too.

TVT: ARK Mediacom is predominantly LPTV-based. LPTV is a secondary service, and in the repack it is possible some stations will be unable to find vacant TV spectrum to continue service. Are you confident you will remain intact and be able to move forward with your plans?

VF: Yes. We have a few MX [mutually exclusive] markets that we are working through. I think we have four of them, principally in larger markets. But by and large, we have lost no licenses out of the entire footprint.

TVT: Tell me about your 3.0 test.

VF: What we wanted to do is put end-to-end connectivity and integration of all of the network elements that are needed to deploy a full end-to-end ATSC 3.0 service to the test.

We originated from our sister company’s [IBN’s] master control in Dallas at the Westar facility on Sept. 26 and transited via fiber in an IP format over to the Atlanta Teleport.

There our sister company –our own satellite content delivery network, called V-Satcast, which is in partnership with Intelsat—distributed our test content via an Intelsat satellite.

We use Newtec and Broadpeak as our network elements—both for the tiering of the various caches.

We are layering caches in four tiers—the origination, which is likely to be various cloud and hosting environments into our own private cloud, which starts at the satellite uplink. Then at each transmission facility there is a next tier of caching, essentially extending the cloud out to each layer of the network. Then ultimately at the consumer receiver edge.

TVT: Where was the signal downlinked?

VF: Yes, back to the link. The satellite uplinked via a Newtec hub and then down into a Newtec receiver at the Comark facility in Southwick, Mass.

From there, into the chain where all the magic happens in ATSC 3.0 and all the different elements, the ATEME encode, the Enensys scheduler, another layer of caching and then into the encoder and out through the Hitachi-Comark transmitter.

Then a short, attenuated 3.0 transmission to a Samsung 3.0 receiver for the linear TV feed. We also in parallel used a DigiCAP home gateway. That was with four parallel streams—all different content, all encoded in the same ATSC 3.0 data stream.

This was a parallel test, by the way. It was not part of an end-to-end origination. It was all done locally at Comark. Then into four separate receivers: a television receiver, a laptop, a tablet and a cell phone—all from Wi-Fi streaming out from the home media gateway that DigiCAP provided in 3.0.

It was incumbent upon us before we went out into the field where we are going to deploy our first four trial markets [plus ARK’s headquarters] that we made sure that the handshakes between everything worked properly, that the APIs between all the vendors’ different equipment was functioning smoothly.

TVT: Where will the field trial happen?

VF: We’re deploying in Ardmore, Okla., Lawton, Okla., Tyler, Texas, and Lufkin, Texas, and our headquarters in Dallas. They will be the first five locations where we do our testing of different market environments for our 3.0 infrastructure to test and prove out both the technology side as well as the different market applications enabled by this new technology.

Over the coming year, it’s a "crawl, walk, run environment." We want to make sure all of the network elements are functioning before we send people out into the field to bolt hardware down far from home.

So, we are starting with a cluster around our corporate headquarters in Dallas. That should be coming together late this quarter and early next.

We picked these sites for the test because they are all different; they all represent different types of second and third tier markets. A college town, a military base, flat as a pancake, hilly, vegetation, no vegetation.

TVT: Besides last-mile delivery of OTT content via 3.0 broadcast, what other markets interest ARK Mediacom?

VF: In terms of the other markets, our big belief is 3.0 enables mobility services.

Sinclair has been making a lot of progress on their mobile first strategy. Our version of mobility is vehicular. We think 3.0’s first and perhaps most profitable application in the datacasting world may very well be the connected car.

What is interesting about that is with mobility now being a part of the ATSC 3.0 ecosystem, what is its impact on the broadcast industry? We as an industry face some really interesting challenges that were never part of the broadcasting landscape.

TVT: What new challenges?

VF: Roaming, intercarrier operations, billing and settlement—all of the things that we wrestled with back in the early days of cellular when we had lots and lots of independent owners on the non-wireline side of the cellular industry. But we had no common branding.

We’ve been trying to organize and lead a transition where broadcasters can create new areas of cooperation. If you are going to serve a connected car market, no single broadcaster has the ubiquitous footprint necessary to make that happen. It is going to take the creation of a national consortium of like-minded operators and broadcasters to combine efforts to create that national footprint. Together, they will have to enable the intercarrier and control the intercarrier authentication and roaming that will be needed.

So, I think the future of ATSC 3.0 will not only be the exciting technology evolution and new things we can do as broadcasters, but also ways and business models that broadcasters can come together to operate and provide broadcasting as a combined industry.

We can give the cellular operators a run for the money.

TVT: That sounds like quite a significant change in how broadcasters view themselves.

VF: We’ve been laying back and taking a nap for about 25 years while the cellular industry ate our lunch.

Broadcasters forgot they were wireless operators. One of the really fascinating things is the $2 trillion cellular industry has been built on spectrum that virtually came out of the broadcast industry’s hide–with the small exception of the PCS spectrum, which was an old railroad microwave band.

It was all us. We gave it all up. It’s amazing that we are finally awakening to the fact that broadcasters are wireless providers, not just in the retrans business. 3.0 is our next-gen salvation as an industry.

For a comprehensive list of TV Technology’s ATSC 3.0 coverage, see our ATSC3 silo.