New Public Media Group Looks To Exploit ATSC 3.0

Last week, the Public Media Company, a non-profit consulting company focused on fostering the growth of public media, announced the kickoff of the Public Media Venture Group.

The group aims to help public broadcasters realize the potential of the ATSC 3.0 next-generation TV standard. 

Given the rich menu of features the next-gen TV standard offers broadcasters, that’s a pretty tall order. But Marc Hand, CEO of Public Media Company says the new venture is up to the task.

In this interview, Hand discusses what the new venture is all about, its likely first steps, ways public broadcasters might generate new dollars to diversify their revenue via ATSC 3.0 and how public broadcasters might one day work with commercial broadcasters to realize some of these goals.

TVTechnology: Last week the Public Media Company announced the launch of the Public Media Venture Group, a coalition of public media TV stations, which will focus on investing in ATSC 3.0 and, among other things, plan an effective conversion to next-gen TV. What do you see as the primary elements of an effective ATSC 3.0 conversion?

Marc Hand:Our focus is to work with, plan and educate stations so they can look at what their needs are and essentially at what their primary goals are in considering a transition.

In some cases, some of the stations we are working with might want to convert early and in other cases, they might want to do a slower conversion. So, our goal is to assemble all of the resources, expertise and information needed so stations can make well-planned and well-informed choices.

I think layered onto that are some of the stations that are being repacked to make sure they knew what the important considerations were so they could get equipment that would enable them to convert over to ATSC 3.0.

TVT: What’s top of mind regarding the ways the next-gen TV standard might help public broadcasters diversify their revenue streams?

HAND: I think there are two levels to that. One is obviously looking at what is going on in the commercial world—whether that’s datacasting or data distribution like Sinclair is working on. So one is making sure we are involved in those conversations and potentially what public television could do with commercial entities in developing options that are going to be revenue-producing.

Then, the second are those elements that might be more unique in terms of revenue and mission focus for public television. So, the whole realm of educational services, targeted audience services or emergency services. A big part of this is knowing that there are going to be things that develop and evolve as the platform is implemented that we don’t know about now.

It’s really wanting to pull together the resources to know what the possibilities are now and being engaged in what the possibilities might be as they are developed post implementation.

TVT: I couldn’t help but think of the spectrum consortium Sinclair is developing when I read this sentence in the press release you issued last week: “Areas of potential collaboration with commercial groups include the establishment of single frequency network facilities and maintenance of ATSC 1.0 service.” Is that the sort of cooperation you envision—pooling spectrum resources to continue serving legacy DTV viewers while rolling out new ATSC 3.0 services?

HAND:Yes, and probably the underpinning of all that is the advantage of the public television system, which is its reach to about 93 percent of the population of the country. The disadvantage is that it’s not like the major networks or the major group owners on the commercial side.

For public television to explore these things in the past would have been single stations or smaller groups of stations. Part of what we wanted to do was assemble a good, forward-thinking entrepreneurial group within the public television system and be able to help represent that group in conversations with some of the major players on the commercial side. So, it gives us the potential to have a group representing the public television system, which reaches 150 million people. That’s probably much more effective when having conversations nationally with group owners.

TVT: Are there any unique FCC restrictions public broadcasters face that commercial broadcasters don’t regarding how they use their bandwidth not devoted to their primary program stream?

HAND:You are right in the overall framing from a regulatory perspective that most public TV stations in the system are on reserve band channels, so non-commercial channels.

But the FCC does allow limited commercial uses if substantially the spectrum is being used for non-commercial purposes.

The difference is if it is targeted in the way stations will be able to do under 3.0—so the difference between a general broadcast and a targeted use that stations have the ability to do with ATSC 3.0.

Data distribution, for example, would be a permitted commercial use for public television because of how the data is distributed.

TVT: Will one of the revenue explorations include pooling of spectrum regionally or nationally to support regional or national data distribution services—something a third party might find more attractive than simply local distribution?

HAND:Exactly, that capacity for the public system to reach most of the country gives the potential for us to link up with commercial entities that might be in data distribution because public television effectively reaches almost the entire population of the country.

Even within the Public Media Venture Group, what we wanted to do was assemble a smaller group that could test out some of those things and explore the ventures that might be compatible with public television and show potential for generating revenue.

If they work, then we will look at how we can engage the rest of the system in some of those things.

TVT: Tell me about seeking out partners and investors. Does that cloud the distinction between public and private and is that a problem for public media?

HAND:When you look over the history of public television there have been some of those public-private partnerships that have developed within the public television system.

It’s certainly a structure that has been used historically, and you probably saw it when the ITFS [Instructional Television Fixed Service] channels were leased out to commercial entities. There is that kind of history within the public television system.

I think what we are looking at is the possibility of a combination of foundation support that’s interested in supporting some of the targeted mission-related uses of ATSC 3.0 and commercial options that might be a little more unique to public television that could involve outside financial resources outside the traditional foundation route.

TVT: When can we expect to see the first fruits of this new venture and what do you expect them to be?

HAND:Over the next few months what we are really focusing on is the first group meeting Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C., and we are planning a webinar in the next couple of weeks just to get everybody up to speed on where the standards and regulatory issues are.

So it’s a combination of getting the group together and getting the group up to speed. We also have just joined the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and we are reaching out to the commercial groups and groups like Pearl TV to make sure we are closely connected with them.

We are also right now going through a series of onboarding conversations with each one of the members get a sense of what their issues are, what they are interested in and what their circumstances are.

The areas we are primarily interested in exploring are certainly the broad realm of educational potential with ATSC 3.0. We want to start talking with equipment manufacturers and those on the technology side to see if there are additional uses [for the standard] that might be applied to public television.

At this stage, we are looking at all of the possibilities but it is too soon to identify what the specific options will be other than those general categories.

TVT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

HAND:We have always been a group focused on stations and station activities ranging from acquisitions and financing to new project development.

For us, this fits very well as a station-centric effort. We felt there was a real need for this within the public television system.

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.