Skip to main content

Broadcasters’ New ‘App’

Recent developments in standardization and service launches for over-the-air DTV on both sides of the pond illustrate how broadcasters are prepared to compete in television’s on-demand future.

The ATSC announced last month the approval of the ATSC NRT (Non-Real-Time) Content Delivery standard, a backwards-compatible enhancement to the DTV standard that could allow broadcasters to introduce a new range of services targeting mobile devices.

The new standard, known as A/103, allows broadcasters to deliver file-based content, including programs and clips, emergency alerts as well as enterprise services, for Mobile DTV. The standard will support terrestrial transmission to fixed and Mobile DTV receivers compatible with the standard.

The standard opens up a whole new world of on-demand services that could include push video-on-demand, anywhere from short-form video clips to feature length movies; and news, information and weather services, personalized TV channels, music distribution and reference information.

Digital signage, a technology not often associated with our industry, could take advantage of this new service, giving entrepreneurs the ability to wirelessly update any content, anytime, on any NRT-capable display. If you’ve attended CES or the NAB Show over the past several years, you may have seen demonstrations of the technology in action. At CES, for example, Harris and Roundbox partnered in a NRT demonstration with Las Vegas’ KLAS that replicated a Mobile DTV service that has been in use on city buses in Raleigh, N.C. for the past several years.

Mobile500, one of two broadcast groups launching Mobile DTV services this year, plans to use the NRT standard to deliver content that is then cached on NRT-capable mobile devices. NRT has also been used to deliver Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) signals to prototype Mobile DTV receivers and has even been shown in demonstrations of broadcast 3DTV, as a supplementary method of delivering stereoscopic content.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., a new service that combines the country’s successful Freeview over-the-air DTV service with on-demand content is undergoing trials, albeit on a fairly limited basis.

Approximately 350 households will test the service, called “YouView” which could feature such services as the BBC’s iPlayer IP-based TV and radio service and Amazon’s on-demand movie service, delivered to YouView-capable set top boxes. The service has been several years in development and involves some of the country’s largest media outlets, including the BBC, iTV, Channel 4, Channel Five and broadband providers TalkTalk, BT and Arqiva.

The rollout is not without its critics, however, who have warned that the service, which was scheduled to launch two years ago, could be too little, too late. “There is a big danger that it will miss the boat as other connected TV services flood the market,” Jonathan Doran, principle analyst at U.K. research firm Ovum, told the BBC.

The set tops, which will retail for £200 (US$250), could be seen as a bit pricey, especially when considering competing on-demand services already being offered from Sky and Virgin Media. However, it is expected that some of that cost will be subsidized by some of the service partners.

While it may be too soon to predict the success or failure of these new services, they demonstrate how broadcasters are attempting to future-proof the industry in the wake of increasing competition from an on-demand media landscape.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Technology (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.