One-on-One With ATSC Chief Mark Richer

Nowhere is the end of analog television more evident than at the industry’s standards body. The Advanced Television Systems Committee in Washington, D.C. is working standards for mobile TV, file-based delivery over broadcast systems and future functionality. ATSC chief Mark Richer said the rapid changes are opening doors.

“There’s more opportunity than broadcasters have had for years, especially to rebuild their terrestrial broadcasting service,” Richer said. “Mobile and handheld is part of it, but it’s just one part. We’re working on other things.

“A few years ago, we put together a strategic plan with a few areas… one was mobile and handheld, but we’re also working on a standard on non real-time file-based delivery. That may be a part of handheld, but it’s a separate standard.”

“The idea is, when you look at broadcasting, most of it doesn’t need to be done in real time,” Richer said. “It makes sense to start offering services in non real-time--for example, a local news service, where they are constantly transmitting the news as files that can be downloaded to different devices with storage in them… like “broadpodcasting.”

Richer compared the file-based delivery model to the next step in digital video recording, one that works something like a Web crawler. Individual devices could be programmed to compile channels.

“You might be interested in sports clips, I might be interested in politics,” Richer said. “The station doesn’t need to know what you’re subscribing to and you don’t need a back channel.”

The working name is the ATSC-NRT--for “non real-time.” Richer said the Committee hopes to have it done “early next year.”

“We’re also working on ATSC 2.0, defining the next generation of the ATSC DTV standard,” he said. “It’s focused on fixed receivers in the home. It may include interactivity; non real-time, conditional access and audience measurement.”

The ATSC is also investigating the need for standards in other areas.

“We’re looking into the possibility of transmitting 3D television, and if so, should we begin standards works,” Richer said.

The same scrutiny is being applied to transmitting 1080p and 60 Hz. When the current DTV standard was established, technology would only support 24 and 30 Hz.

“The question there is, is there any reason to do it because you can actually convert it in the television and do it pretty well,” he said.

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The DTV Hotspot at NAB2007
Richer spoke with Television Broadcast on the eve of 2008 NAB, where he’ll shuttle between the DTV Hotspot in the South Upper Hall Lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and various sessions on the mobile handheld standard, ATSC-M/H. The standard is in development now and expected to be completed before the great analog shutdown of 2009.

Richer said three complete systems were being proposed—one from Harris and LG; another from Rohde & Schwarz, Samsung and Nokia; and a third from Micronas and Thomson.

“Then there are individual proposals,” Richer said. “There are a lot of possibilities and they’re all on the table yet. Just one system could be selected; pieces could be selected and combined. It’s possible that proponents could get together and do that.”

“It could be drug out in a fight, but I hope not,” he said. “There’s usually a competitive phase, then a cooperative phase. One thing… is the broadcast industry really wants to get this done. The pressure’s on us, and we’re trying to get it done.”

Concurrently, the ATSC is commemorating its 25th anniversary this year at its annual meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City in Arlington, Va. May 8. Former FCC Chairman Dick Wiley will keynote the event. Featured speakers will include Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS; David Donovan, chief of the Association for Maximum Service Television, and Brandon Burgess, president and CEO of ION Media and chairman of the Open Mobile Video Coalition.