Cooperation among competing bodies appears possible as TV mulls future direction at IBC2011

Editor's note: Video interviews withMark Richer, president, Advanced Television Systems Committee, andPeter Siebert, executive director, DVB Project Office, from IBC2011 are posted on the Broadcast Engineering website.

Multiscreen television is having a breakthrough moment at IBC2011, which ends today in Amsterdam, but for all of the developments in multiplatform encoding, quality of experience assurance and production workflow tweaks to accommodate screens of all sizes, a more subtle development indicates that the broadcast industry is circling the wagons and fortifying itself for a renewed struggle with those who wish to reclaim its spectrum for use by wireless broadband providers.

In the United States, where television broadcasters are grappling with regulators, lawmakers and the wireless industry to preserve their spectrum for OTA DTV transmission, recognition of the international nature of this spectrum battle may be somewhat dim. But Peter Siebert, executive director of the DVB Project Office, says the desire to recoup television spectrum touches the broadcast industry the world over.

Both Siebert and Mark Richer, president of the Advance Television Systems Committee, acknowledged at IBC2011 that their respective organizations' participation in the first-ever Future of Broadcast Television (FOBTV) Summit in Shanghai, China, Nov. 10-11 is an opportunity to find common ground — to the whatever degree possible with systems based on incompatible modulation schemes — and position OTA TV transmission for the future.

On Sept. 6, days before IBC2011 opened, ATSC announced it would begin the standards development process for ATSC 3.0, a next-generation digital transmission system that Richer says will leverage a variety of concepts and new digital technology that will position OTA TV broadcasters to compete effectively.

One important component of this effort is the willingness of ATSC to start with a blank slate. Everything appears to be on the table, with Richer going as far to say that he does not see any need to maintain backwards compatibility with the existing ATSC digital transmission standard.

In an exclusive interview with Broadcast Engineering, Richer said even he could envision the new standard accommodating software-based TV set decoders and demodulators, which conceivably give OTA TV broadcasters a means to stay ahead of the technology development curb and remove them from today's unenviable position of being locked to sets that have no way to receive more efficiently encoded and modulated signals.

While ATSC 3.0 is still 10 years away — give or take 11 years — in the words of Richer, the fact that the standards body announced it will begin to tackle next-generation digital TV transmission with no sense of obligation to maintain compatibility with legacy DTVs and the fact that it is a key force behind the new global TV summit is significant.

By teaming with a competitor like the DVB on the summit and expressing a desire to find as much common ground as possible in the future direction of terrestrial television broadcasting, the organization seems to be signaling its willingness to do what's necessary to ensure over-the-air television remains competitive.

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.