ATSC Updates Broadcasters on 3.0 Progress

WASHINGTON—The May 14 Advanced Television Systems Committee’s annual meeting— branded this year as “Tune In To The Future”— brought together a record number of broadcast television’s best minds to assess the status of the organization’s next-generation television system—ATSC 3.0—and to ponder technical and business ramifications likely accompanying its adoption.

A record 230 attendees swelled the Ronald Regan Building’s Pavilion room to near capacity, reflecting the great amount of interest in the technology destined to become the next U.S. television platform— and one that could possibly be adopted on a global basis.

In opening remarks, Glenn Reitmeier, ATSC board chairman, reflected on the adoption of the organization’s first DTV standard 20 years ago and then introduced ATSC president, Mark Richer, who observed the strides made in readying the new standard for implementation, and also reasons for its development.

“What a difference a year makes—just incredible progress since last year,” said Richer. “At that point we were talking about general concepts and general directions for ATSC 3.0. Now standards documents are being drafted and they are moving through the ATSC due process.

“There are those who still ask why we are developing ATSC 3.0, or as I like to call it, ‘the engineering consultant’s full employment act,’” continued Richer. “Quite simply ATSC 3.0 will provide new business opportunities for broadcasters and new services and products for consumers. The ATSC DTV standard now referred to as ATSC 1.0 is now 20 years old, and…employs technologies that are about 25 years old.

“Broadcasting has to continue to evolve. We can’t put a standard together and expect it to go for 50 years. This is not the way things work in this day and age.”

Following Richer’s remarks, the conference got down to business with the first of three panel discussions. Media General CTO Brett Jenkins moderated a session featuring Steve Koenig, senior director of marketing research for the Consumer Electronics Association, Will Law chief architect within the Akamai Engineering Group, and Laura Clark, senior vice president with Frank N. Magid Associates. The group examined changes in TV viewing habits and modalities during the past few decades.

Glenn Reitmeier (L) and Mark Richer (R) present the 2015 Bernie Lechner Award to Luke Fay.INCENTIVE AUCTION’S IMPACT
A second panel examined business issues likely accompanying the FCC incentive auction. TV Technology Executive Editor Deborah McAdams served as moderator and panelists included Jimmy Goodmon, vice president and GM, CBC Media Group, Capitol Broadcasting Co., Erik Moreno, senior vice president of corporate development for Fox Networks Group, Anne Schelle, managing director for Pearl TV, and Lonna Thompson, executive vice president, COO and general counsel for the Association of Public Television Stations.

All acknowledged that the auction will greatly change the TV station playing field, but differed in opinion about its impact.

“From the non-commercial TV perspective we have always seen opportunities that may be provided for some of our members,” said Thompson. “We’ve always been open-minded at APTS to exploring more efficient uses of the spectrum and we’re always open to entrepreneurial uses.”

“I’m against [the auction],” said Goodmon. “When you dissect it… the real losers… are those of us who want to remain in business. I’m against the concept of it happening so quickly and not being actually mapped and/or integrated with a new transition to ATSC 3.0.”

Moreno acknowledged that there’s general agreement that the government wants to have a different use of the spectrum. “At the end of the day, for better or for worse, we’re going to play the hand that is being dealt to us, which is an incentive auction,” he said. But… we still have lots of questions [about] how it even works.”

A third panel moderated by former FCC chairman Richard Wiley examined multiple aspects of the changing television landscape and included such industry heavy hitters as Michael Powell, president/CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association; Gordon Smith, NAB president/ CEO; and Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president.

Wiley opened the forum by asking panelists for their views on where television is heading.

“I see the future of video—and television broadcasting in particular—as remaining bright as long as [it includes] localism, live free journalism, consumer protection, [and] emergency alerts,” Smith said.

“I think television is going to be very dramatically different,” said Powell. “I think it’s going to be much more multidimensional of the consumer experience than it is today… the nature of content is [also] going to continue to radically expand.”

Shapiro emphasized the differences from today. “Over-the-top is coming really, really fast and it’s hitting,” he said. “We’re going to IP video very quickly and also to different ways of doing things. In the next several years it’s all about Ultra-HD 4K, which [is having] a phenomenally successful run.”

The conference also featured the presentation of the 2015 Bernard J. Lechner Award to Luke Faye, a Sony Electronics engineer and chair of the ATSC 3.0 physical layer specialist group.

“Luke Fay’s leadership of the specialist group on the ATSC 3.0 physical layer has been exemplary,” said Richer. “Luke is an excellent engineer with extraordinary leadership skills that are contributing to momentum behind the ATSC 3.0 standard.”

Other presentations included a report on the status of digital television in China from Wenjun Zhang, chief scientist for the Chinese National Engineering Research Centre of Digital Television and director general of the Cooperative MediaNet Innovation Center, and a “road map” for transitioning from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0 in both broadcaster and consumer environments presented by Jay Adrick, technical advisor to GatesAir and chair of the ATSC advanced emergency alerting implementation team and Richard Chernock, chief science officer for Triveni Digital and chair of the ATSC Technology Group 3 (TG3).

A day-long ATSC 3.0 “Boot Camp” preceded the main conference and was a standing room only event as well.

James E. O'Neal

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.