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Noland Details ATSC 3.0 Transition Costs for Public TV Stations

APTS 2021 Public Media Summit ATSC 3.0 panel
The APTS 2021 Public Media Summit ATSC 3.0 panel. From top left to bottom right: Susi Elkins, Mark Newman, John Taylor and Madeleine Noland (Image credit: APTS)

WASHINGTON—The rollout for ATSC 3.0 is well underway, with ATSC 3.0 having already been deployed in 23 markets across the country. But for stations that aren’t ready to deploy the NextGen TV standard, the important question they face is how much will deployment cost? That was one of the issues discussed in the “Datacasting, Next Gen TV and Beyond” panel during APTS’ 2021 Public Media Summit.

The virtual panel, which debuted to attendees on Feb. 22, featured Susi Elkins, director of Broadcasting and general manager, WKAR Public Media, East Lansing, Mich.; Mark Newman, executive director, Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations (IPBS); John Taylor, senior vice president of Public Affairs and Communications, LG Electronics USA; and Madeleine Noland, president of ATSC.

It was Noland who got into the business of launching an ATSC 3.0-capable station. For instance, making a single site with a newer transmission plant ATSC 3.0 capable would cost about $300,000, Noland reports. For older single sites, the price tag depends on how much tower work is needed—if minimal, it could be around $600,000; for significant tower work the cost could jump to $3 million. Also, if working to get a single frequency network (SFN) ready for ATSC 3.0, the cost would be around $4 million.

However, Noland argued you can’t just look at the cost of transitioning to ATSC 3.0 without also acknowledging the community impact of NextGen TV. The new transmission standard will be able to deliver more, better local content; assist with distance education; help close digital divides; and increase public safety features, Noland said.

“It’s when the tools get into the hands of folks like yourself [Susi Elkins] and Mark, and others who are connected to the community and know how to create content, and know what those use cases are that are going to resonate in their community, then they apply the tools to that. That’s when it gets really exciting,” said Noland.

Noland also gave a brief update on where things stand with ATSC 3.0 deployment. She expects that by this time next year 62 markets, covering 70-75% of U.S. TV households, will have deployed ATSC 3.0; most of those will deploy by the end of 2021, with a handful possibly taking place in Q1 or Q2 of 2022.

On the consumer-facing side, Taylor spoke on how the number of TVs that are NextGen TV capable being shipped is set to rapidly increase over the next few years. He shared estimates from the Consumer Technology Association that says by 2024 12 million NextGen TV-capable models will be shipped to consumers, up from the 300,000 that were shipped in 2020.

The panel also looked at datacasting, which has been a key component in supporting remote education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newman detailed how public TV stations in Indiana, as well as other states like Pennsylvania and South Carolina, have been using broadcast signals to datacast educational resources to students who may not have access to broadband. Newman says that IPBS is expected to serve 11,000 students via datacasting by mid March.

While datacasting can be done with current ATSC 1.0 signals, the introduction of ATSC 3.0 will likely be able to increase this capability, making it possible to send even more content via TV broadcast signals, according to Noland.

Much like Elkins’ WKAR, which runs the NextGen Media Innovation Lab, public TV stations have a significant role to play in testing and promoting the uses of the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard.

A full recording of the “Datacasting, Next Gen TV and Beyond” panel is available online