Broadcasters Praise 3.0 Authorization, Get to Work on Deployment

LEAWOOD, KAN.—Reaction to yesterday’s vote by the FCC to authorize the ATSC 3.0 next-generation TV standard was swift and positive among many broadcasters and organizations.

American Public Television Stations President Patrick Butler said viewers will be “amazed by the standard’s picture and sound quality.”

Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV, a consortium of eight of the nation’s largest broadcasters, called the vote “a solid confirmation that broadcasting has an essential role to play for public safety and bringing next generation content to viewers.”

And Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, said the commission’s endorsement of 3.0 “marks the beginning of a reinvention of free and local broadcast television in America.”

However, there’s more to this story than praise, prognostication and platitudes. Broadcasters, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the AWARN Alliance and CE manufacturers aren’t losing a step in bringing next-generation television service to TV viewers.

For instance, Sinclair Broadcast Group and its subsidiary ONE Media 3.0 following the vote to authorize ATSC 3.0 broadcasting, announced in a press release their intention to roll out a nationwide next-generation TV network. As part of the strategy, Sinclair will soon announce a multichannel, multisite single frequency network buildout in a top 10 TV market, said Mark Aitken, company vice president of Advanced Technology, during a telephone interview.

The purpose of the SFN deployment is to bring together the vendor community, integration, SFN propagation planning and RF components to develop “a methodology to be able to execute on a national scale over the next two and half to three years a full nationwide buildout,” said Aitken. The initial phase of the buildout will focus on having a multi-site, multi-frequency, multi-tenant SFN infrastructure that can accommodate up to six channels.

In March, Sinclair and Nexstar Media Group formed a consortium to aggregate and monetize spectrum. In July, Univision Local Media joined the consortium, and soon another large broadcaster, which Aitken declined to identify, may be signing up, he said. These consortium partners, as well as other broadcasters that might lease SFN capacity, could be possible tenants for such deployments around the country and help to defray costs for everyone involved, he added.

A principal aim of the spectrum aggregation is to enable 3.0 rollout across the country while maintaining 1.0 lighthouse service in local markets. Similarly, 3.0 deployment is moving forward with Pearl TV members. This week, seven broadcasters announced 10 of their local Phoenix stations will rollout 3.0 service by April 2018. Pearl TV is coordinating the effort to make Phoenix a model market for 3.0 deployment as well as the 1.0 lighthouse concept. The effort will give broadcasters the chance to “fine-tune the remaining technical issues” while delivering improved video and audio service to viewers, said Schelle.

The Pearl TV managing director noted concerns expressed by some FCC commissioners over 3.0’s lack of backwards compatibility with 1.0 and said Pearl members “will work hard to ensure that the benefits of broadcasting continue to be widely available during the deployment of Next Gen TV.”

The Phoenix model market and deployment announcements by Sinclair are "really important to help prepare for a nationwide deployment” of 3.0 consumer televisions, said John Taylor, VP Public Affairs and Communications at LG Electronics.

Commission approval of the new standard is “a seminal moment” for next generation television that “will unleash an innovation revolution… for consumers,” said Dr. Jong G. Kim, LG SVP and president of the Zenith R&D Lab.

Deployment of ATSC 3.0 TVs in South Korea in preparation for 4K UHD OTA delivery of the 2018 Winter Olympics is “a good on ramp” to ultimate deployment in the U.S, said Taylor, adding that the next-gen sets sold in South Korea include both an ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 turner. “When there is a critical mass of ATSC 3.0 commercial broadcasting in the United States, we will be there,” he added.

For the AWARN Alliance, 3.0 authorization means it’s time to roll up the sleeves and tackle technical issues, said AWARN Alliance Executive Director John Lawson. To date, the alliance has focused its efforts on the user interface and user experience of the public as well as the advanced alert needs of the public safety community.

In 2018, the alliance will hire and manage technical contractors to create an AWARN software bundle that “provides for a consistent look and feel to the alert messages and interoperability from the alert originator all the way through to the consumer device,” said Lawson. At the same time, it will continue to talk with those in the public safety community about AWARN and enlist the help of social scientists to integrate lessons on how the public actually responds to emergency messages, he added.

For the Advanced Television Systems Committee, authorization of ATSC 3.0 is gratifying and a reminder that its work must continue.

“While it would be easy to look at today’s [Nov. 16’s] FCC action as the end of the road, the reality is that this is just the beginning,” said ATSC President Mark Richer, who added that he expects the finishing touches on the ATSC 3.0 standards suite to be completed before the end of the 2017.

For Greg Herman, president and CEO of Watch TV, a Class-A broadcaster in Portland, Ore., that has deployed a 3.0 SFN under an experimental license from the FCC, authorization of the new standard is the beginning of “a renaissance of over-the-air television, broadcasting and data broadcasting.” Based on OFDM modulation, the next-gen TV standard is a sort of equalizer between full and low-power stations, because with 3.0 no longer is indoor reception with a modest antenna unattainable for low power stations, he said.

“I believe this is a field of dreams for broadcasters,” he said. “If we build it, they will come because the digital divide can be dissolved by 3.0 modulation,” he said. “The American public will be astounded –whether it’s UHD, robust 1080p or mobility. We have it all with 3.0.”

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

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.