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PMG Aims to Unlock ATSC 3.0 SFNs With Public Media Management

(Image credit: PMG)

The Public Media Group (PMG) announced this week it had taken over WGBH’s ownership interest in Public Media Management (PMM), a cloud-based master control and content sharing platform.

The move, executed in late April, sets up PMM as a company jointly owned by PMG and Sony, which worked with WGBH to establish the platform in 2015.

Stacey Decker, former CTO of the Boston public broadcaster, moved to PMM to be its president and CTO of the Public Media Group. 

The corporate mission of Public Media Group is to enhance television broadcasting through deployment of ATSC 3.0 single frequency networks. Its new interest in PMM positions Public Media Group to not only provide SFN infrastructure as a service but also to drive content through the cloud-based PMM master control and playout platform to individual SFN sites, enabling over-the-air TV to geo-target viewers.

In this interview with Decker, the PMM president, discusses where the platform stands today, how it is being enhanced with machine learning and analytics and the way in which—together with PMG’s SFN-as-a-service offering—PMM will enable broadcasters to leverage ATSC 3.0 to unlock new revenue streams and remain competitive. 

(An edited transcript.)

Stacey Decker

Stacey Decker (Image credit: PMG)

TVTechnology: The Public Media Group works with public and commercial broadcasters to assist them in evolving to ATSC 3.0. How will its acquisition of WGBH’s interest in the Public Media Management cloud-based master control and content sharing platform further that goal?

Stacey Decker: I had intentions of working toward offering services associated with ATSC 3.0 from within the platform from the beginning.

Among the tools we think are going to be incredibly important, especially for commercial broadcasters, is for targeted advertising. 

The elements I have started to bring into the whiteboard sessions we have been having to roadmap the PMM business are associated with analytics and machine learning. 

We are looking at machine learning and analytics so our technology can make more informed decisions. But how do you incorporate what the user is doing so that the machines make decisions that accommodate the needs of the viewer and react fast to people’s needs?

The days of single source analytics are gone. You have to incorporate the analytics of digital platforms, social media platforms and broadcast platforms together so this system can make intelligent decisions.

TVT: How would that work?

SD: Imagine an environment in which 3.0 mobile delivery becomes a social experience that draws on social media. An environment in which you register your profile with a group, like a broadcast network, and that network knows based on your profile that you are interested in certain types of news elements.

I can now incorporate content delivery into buckets—obviously not targeted right to an individual, but to a smaller group that shares common interests.

It’s the closest opportunity we have to be more social and targeted, and I think broadcasters need a shot like this. It’s really important for broadcasters to take the leap and invest in ATSC 3.0 because there are so many opportunities there.

PLUS: Newly Formed Public Media Group Plans Nationwide ATSC 3.0 SFN Rollout

TVT: Someone once told me it would be impossible for 3.0 to enable personalization of content and advertising with a baseband infrastructure behind it. This could only happen with the help of the cloud. That observation seems consistent with what you are telling me about your plans for PMM, which is cloud based.

SD: The cloud changes everything. If you incorporate 3.0 into a cloud infrastructure in a smart way, all of a sudden you have a pretty powerful tool.

TVT: ATSC 3.0 supports both over-the-air and streaming delivery of content. How does PMM address this?

SD: The one thing I have taken very seriously—and this is more associated with public broadcasting but definitely resonates with commercial broadcasters—is that I have assisted broadcasters in becoming more efficient with their media management platforms.

I feel it is my duty to assist broadcasters in doing one-touch delivery to broadcast, digital platforms, digital publishing and social media so we can manage all media going to those locations from one location and at the same time deliver the analytics needed to understand how successful those pieces have been.

TVT: Some broadcasters looking at 3.0 are considering scenarios in which they can leverage SHVC (Scalable High Efficiency Video Coding) to reduce the number of bits sent over the air and supplement them in the home with bits sent via the internet. 

Those OTT bits would be combined with the OTA signal in the receiver to, for instance, enable 4K UHD viewing in the home while giving broadcasters a way to deliver a more robust 3.0 OTA signal to mobile devices. Can PMM manage where bits go in this type of scenario?

SD: Yes. You’ve actually hit the nail on the head. When I talk about the analytics and machine learning piece, having that intelligence built into the process of media delivery—specifically the encoding environment—to make the encoder dynamic so it can with incredibly intelligent metadata determine what the thresholds of what the broadcast spectrum are with relations to content.

Here’s another scenario where bandwidth devoted to specific content might change depending on its value. Maybe it’s 8 o’clock or 10 o’clock at night and a non-high-value content product is being delivered via broadcast. You can determine its value based on analytics and squeeze bandwidth a little bit, and dedicate that extra bandwidth to delivery of other data.

TVT: So what will a television station that’s your client look like? Does on-premise master control and playout go away?

SD: Right now, PMM drops a stack of technology at the facility that automates about 99% of what a station does, but it gives them a terminal to work from.

If they want to put it in auto-pilot, they can and then go home at night. If they want to put it in manual control, they can sit down and grab the stick and away they go. PMM is built like that today. 

Just recently one of our clients decided to move facilities, so we have been working on a cloud model with a partner for about the past 18 months.

The intent is to remove that hardware stack and virtualize the entire experience. You know, we are built with Sony. Sony owns Crispin automation. We are going to be one of the first cloud-native designed and built products. 

TVT: That’s quite a change from how most broadcasters work today.

SD: What I am suggesting is that broadcasters become media companies. That’s it. They’ll have a terminal or multiple terminals to work from. That terminal will give them the ability to ingest live content and file-based content into a cloud environment. 

The beauty of the cloud is there won’t be one seat of automation. There will be an infinite number of seats in one automation system.

For the last seven weeks, all of the operators using PMM have been working from home. So we’re managing 18 TV stations—together serving many entire states—for the past seven weeks because of COVID-19.

TVT: Some broadcasters have consolidated master control and production control used for newscasts to find greater efficiencies. Are there any plans for PMM to drive newscasts?

SD: It’s interesting. COVID has really pushed the envelope with regard to technical capabilities. One of our PMM clients happens to be the public broadcasting station in San Diego.

They act almost like a commercial news network. They do a nightly news program. It’s really interesting how they’re relying on PMM to help them with the process with people working from home.

We didn’t predict COVID by any means, but I am proud to say that the technology we’ve assembled has responded to the new hurdles that have been put in front of broadcasters. Absolutely with the cloud technology, I think using the virtualized stack that we are building, you could do away with production control.

TVT: Let’s shift gears a bit. Before Public Media Group acquired WGBH’s interest in PMM, it was a big proponent of ATSC 3.0 single frequency networks (SFNs), right?

SD: Yes. The initial interest of PMG was ATSC 3.0 SFNs. We are a public benefit corporation. We have a mission. That mission is to enhance the broadcast industry through SFNs.

TVT: So was the plan to set up SFN sites for broadcasters and sell broadcasters an SFN-as-a-service package?

SD: That’s exactly it. We’ve gone out and raised a substantial amount of money. There’s been a big effort made with private equity firms to raise some capital to invest in infrastructure as a service.

We feel like there are a lot of broadcast licensees out there and having them work together technically really opens up a lot of opportunities for broadcasters long term.

TVT: I’ve heard 3.0 SFN advocates say competing broadcasters in a market should cooperate when it comes to individual SFN sites, for instance sharing the expense of the real estate for sites. Are broadcasters ready to work together on that level?

SD: I really think it’s time for broadcasters to think about continuing to compete in front of the lens, but behind the lens, they need to collaborate—whether public or private—to become a big juggernaut in regard to technology and capability.

It’s interesting to see the more progressive organizations. They see the opportunity in 3.0, and they see the leverage it gives them with regard to their business model.

Others are probably just waiting and seeing. I would encourage them to get onboard because I think it is really a good opportunity for stations.

I was a skeptic in the beginning about 3.0, and I’ve transitioned my thought process significantly because of what I see in markets. We see an SFN in San Francisco increasing the POP count by 40%. That’s a huge number for a broadcast station. POP count is a big deal.

TVT: Have you heard from any broadcasters that they are interested in using the LDM feature of ATSC 3.0 to offer hyperlocal content over the air in their markets?

SD: We are big believers in LDM. We’ve hired a gentleman, Eric Dausman, who was the chief engineer and CTO at Sutro Tower in San Francisco. He is a very sophisticated RF engineer, and he believes heavily in LDM. It’s something that’s been done in Korea. 

We think that the geo-zoning capability LDM enables so that broadcasters can offer hyperlocal content is a secret sauce with regard to ATSC 3.0. We see about 10Mbits of additional bandwidth that can be used for that type of experience.

TVT: Is the plan to enable hyperlocal, geo-zoned playback with the scheduling, playout and master control functionality of PMM by making sure the right content gets to the right SFN site in markets?

SD: Yes. You know for PMM to be intelligent, we need access to data. I am having conversations with a number of data platforms to make us more intelligent. 

The more intelligent we get and the more access we get to these analytics, the better I can make PMM make decisions on behalf of stations to make them more profitable. So data is a big piece of this.

We also see the edge datacenter deployment in the broadcast environment becoming more realistic and a bigger component in becoming more intelligent closer to the audience. The more intelligent you can be closer to the audience, the faster and more intelligent I can make the digital infrastructure to make decisions to create the hyperlocal experiences you mentioned.

More information is available on the Public Media Group website.