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NextGen TV Launches by Public Stations Up 300% in One Year

ATSC 3.0
(Image credit: ATSC)

WASHINGTON D.C.—In comments to the FCC regarding NextGen TV/ATSC 3.0, public broadcasters said public stations are rapidly embracing the new broadcasting standard and that the number of stations offering NextGen TV broadcasts grew from three in June of 2021 to 12 in July of 2022. 

In addition half a dozen more are planning to offer the broadcasts in the near future and a number of others are looking for partners to help them launch the services. 

America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), The Corporation For Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) made the comments to the FCC as part of the agency’s “Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” on the state of the transition to NextGen TV. 

“PTV member stations are focused on leveraging ATSC 3.0 technology to better serve local communities with enhanced educational content and improved educational effectiveness of curriculum-driven resources, along with advanced accessibility and public safety services,” the groups said. 

But they also stressed that public stations are a diverse group of broadcasters, serving both small rural and large urban communities that face “many challenges” in adopting ATSC 3.0. 

As a result there is no “one size fits all” approach for ATSC 3.0 across public TV and “stations are vigorously pursuing ATSC 3.0 deployments through many varied paths," the groups said. 

Many stations also face challenges in finding partners so that they can launch ATSC 3.0 while continuing to offer their legacy ATSC 1.0 broadcasts. 

“Overall, PTV stations have made great strides forward with ATSC 3.0 deployment, especially given their nonprofit noncommercial status and limited funding availabilities,” the groups told the FCC. “Despite PTV’s solid progress with ATSC 3.0 deployments, many challenges nonetheless remain. These include determining feasible simulcast partners, funding ATSC 3.0 equipment and deployment, funding research on ATSC 3.0 enhanced content and the educational effectiveness of that content, experimenting with the wide range of ATSC 3.0 public service use cases, collaborating with PTV content creators on leveraging ATSC 3.0 enhanced content features, determining optimal transition timing for individual local stations, and assessing ATSC 3.0 receiver penetration and consumer adoption, among others.”

The groups also provided a current snapshot of ATSC 3.0 deployments by public stations: 

  • “APTV member station WKAR-TV, an early ATSC 3.0 adopter, continues to operate an experimental ATSC 3.0 station in conjunction with Michigan State University’s Next Generation Innovation Lab, researching and studying outcomes related to education and public media content,” the groups said. 
  • “Nine PTV member stations (including KAET in Phoenix, the first PTV station to implement ATSC 3.0) are participants in commercial “group” launches facilitated by Pearl and/or Bitpath. One of the nine stations (WHUT-TV) is serving as the ATSC 3.0 “host,” and the remaining eight stations across the country are ATSC 3.0 sharees.”
  • “Three PTV member stations (in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Greenville, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia) have implemented simulcast/hosting arrangements with their own co-owned stations (i.e., simulcasting with themselves). In these circumstances, the PTV licensee is both the “host” station and the “guest” station.”
  • “PTV member station WNET (d/b/a Thirteen) has announced its upcoming transition to ATSC 3.0 in the New York City area with co-owned PTV station WLIW.”
  • “APTS and PBS are advised that at least half a dozen other PTV member stations are planning ATSC 3.0 launches in the near future.”
  • “Other PTV stations are actively exploring ways to use their existing TV translator stations or to partner with LPTV stations to experiment with ATSC 3.0, given the greater flexibility afforded to such low-power licensees. At least one such arrangement between a PTV station and an LPTV station is already in place, and PTV has been advised that several other TV translator and LPTV arrangements are currently under development.”

 The groups also noted that stations have been experimenting with a variety of use cases. These include:  

  • “Michigan State University station WKAR-TV, with an experimental ATSC 3.0 license, created a Next Generation Media Innovation Lab that has been experimenting with, among other things: programming that facilitates lesson attentiveness and social interactions; campus alerting services; real time targeted fundraising; and technology that enables a return path, making interactive content available to audiences, such as educational children’s content that augments and builds on traditional television programming.”
  • “Statewide network PBS North Carolina, which operates two ATSC 3.0 stations (WUNC-TV 6 in Raleigh-Durham and WUNK-TV in Greenville, NC) is using its ATSC 3.0 stations to research and explore the use of ATSC 3.0 for improving public safety, digital paging, and long-term sustainable remote learning efforts. In 2019, PBS North Carolina established a NextGen TV Laboratory to test ATSC 3.0 applications, including public safety and remote learning efforts. Through an effort funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, PBS North Carolina is actively testing “Digital Paging over Public Broadcasting,” a system that will greatly reduce the amount of time needed to get critical emergency information to first responders.”
  • “New Mexico PBS (“NMPBS”) stations KNME-TV, Albuquerque, and KNMD-TV, Santa Fe, are offering both ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 services with KNME-TV as the 1.0 host and KNMD-TV as the 3.0 host. NMPBS is working with its licensee, the University of New Mexico, to build a Remote Learning Lab in the College of Education tailored to creating 3.0 datacasting resources and educational assets. Further, NMPBS is creating a ATSC 3.0 datacasting library with school content, family-centric information, early learning, English as a second language, and adult literacy content. During the wildfire season, NMPBS also worked with public safety organizations to datacast emergency response information around the areas impacted by wildfires, particularly when the Internet and cellular service available to local residents was lost. NMPBS is working to expand its ATSC 3.0 datacasting offerings to include full length VOD services (providing non-linear on-demand viewing using a broadcast signal).”
  • “In 2021, PTV member station WHUT-TV, in conjunction with local commercial stations and the National Association of Broadcasters, transitioned to ATSC 3.0 transmissions. WUHT-TV launched the NextGen TV Digital Learning Lab, working with the Howard University schools of Engineering and Communications to make the most of the  opportunities provided by ATSC 3.0 to enhance public service and to train the next generation of broadcast leaders.”

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.