APTS Public Media Summit Tackles NextGen TV

(Image credit: APTS)

WASHINGTON—Field testing is about to begin in North Carolina on an ATSC 3.0-based alternative to the analog paging systems first responders rely upon to receive dispatches telling them the location of where they are needed and the nature of the emergency at hand.

That was among the key takeaways from the first day (Feb. 28) of the 2022 APTS Public Media Summit session “NextGen TV & Spectrum Business and Service Opportunities.”

“Although we are confident that ATSC 3-delivered messages will far outperform the analog [paging] messages, we must prove that in a deliberate and accurate way. We cannot make any assumptions,” said Fred Engel, CTO of PBS North Carolina. “People’s lives are at stake.”

PBS North Carolina, which has put two stations—the low-power WUNC in Raleigh-Durham and the full-power WUNK in Greenville—on air with ATSC 3.0 has led an effort under Engels to develop a 3.0 alternative to the 50-year-old analog paging systems used by first responders. 

The Department of Homeland Security has awarded a grant to Morrisville, N.C., -based Device Solutions Inc. to develop a prototype paging receiver using 3.0 technology that can be worn on the body by first responders, said Engel.

The 3.0-based paging system promises to reduce significantly the time it takes to communicate information to first responders when compared to the system in use today.

The advancement grew out of the work of PBS North Carolina and its 3.0 R&D lab, which is also tackling the use of NextGen TV to enable remote learning as well as leading investigations into 3.0-based consumer alerting, high dynamic range and single frequency network modeling and the use of 3.0 with PBS’s WARN system, he said.

Engel was joined by Dana Golub, vice president of technology business operations at PBS, Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV and Mark Aitken, president of ONE Media 3.0 and senior vice president of technology at Sinclair Broadcast Group. Lonna Thompson, executive vice president, COO and general counsel at APTS, moderated the virtual session. 

PBS has moved forward with further development of its WARN (Warning, Alert and Response Network), directed in part by a request from the California Office of Emergency Services, said Golub.

When asked how the system might be improved, the office requested that a feature get added that would allow the state agency to see all of the alerts issued by various localities under its purview, she said.

“The example that was given to us in California was that [someone] sitting at the state agency in Sacramento… [might be unaware of] an alert… issued in Palm Springs,” she said. 

After doing a proof of concept, Golub’s team decided it would be possible to add this capability, which it did.

During the session, Golub showed the interface, which displayed that a Flash Flood was occurring in a part of Alabama at the time. The display also included a 360-character and 90-character alert message flood warning and the specific polygon covered by the alert.

“…{This} really takes it [WARN] to a next level in terms of connecting you to the work you are doing and… [gives] you something that you can show when you engage with lawmakers, with your state agencies [and] with emergency management,” she said.

Aitken, who began by discussing recent international wins for ATSC 3.0 in Jamaica and Brazil pointed out that the advanced emergency alerting capabilities of the standard played “a key part in their decision making” that led to the standards adoption. (Jamaica has adopted 3.0, and Brazil is moving forward with parts of the standard for its next generation of digital television.)

“There’s no doubt that the ability to address the public in ways that go well beyond EAS—that go well beyond currently available techniques—to bring rich media and to bring live weather radar, to bring escape routes, to bring an understanding of the situation and situational awareness to the first responders themselves is an important reason for the adoption of ATSC 3,” said Aitken.

Aitken also touted the success of BitPath, Sinclair’s joint venture with Nexstar Media Group, which has “brought together hundreds of television stations in dozens of U.S. markets’ to begin using the ATSC 3,0 standard for datacentric network activity.

“The opportunities certainly seem real. BIA recently set the bar at perhaps up to $15 billion a year by 2030, leveraging datacasting as a central and core opportunity,” he said, adding this opportunity offers broadcasters a potentially significant boost to their existing TV business revenue.

Aitken showed a BitPath map with the coverage the 400 stations to illustrate coverage of a data service over a wide swath of the country, which will only grow as BitPath and Pearl TV continue to bring more markets online. The Advanced Television Systems Committee has begun looking at how to build a core network that coordinates data delivery across such a network, he added.

Peral TV’s Schelle helped shed light on just how extensive ATSC 3.0 deployment has been, what’s expected for 2022 and how the rollout should unfold.

“We ‘ve launched over 42 markets [as of] the end of last year, which represent about 45% of the U.S. households covered with over 220 stations broadcasting the NextGen TV signal,” said Schelle.

The number of NextGen TV models available from LG, Samsung and Sony topped 70 in 2021, with the least expensive being a model from Sony that costs $599. Hisense is jumping into the NextGen TV market with its announcement at CES in January 2022 that it too will offer ATSC 3.0 models. Together, the companies are expected to offer consumers more than 100 NextGen TV models this year, she said.

Looking ahead, 75% of the population will be covered by a NextGen TV signal by the end of the summer, and 34 new markets will be on air by the end of 2022, she said.

The Pearl TV managing director also pointed out to her public media audience the “really unique collaboration” announced in December 2021 coordinated by Pearl and the station groups in Washington, D.C., with Howard University to put ATSC 3.0 on air in the national capitol.

“What’s important about this is it’s a demonstration of the commitment by commercial broadcasters and public stations to work together to bring this new service to consumers,” Schelle said.

The 2022 APTS Public Media Summit continues this afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m. EST. 

More information is available on the event’s webpage.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.