PSIP: Not Enough Time

Saying the FCC’s deadline is impossible to meet, NAB, MSTV and Harris together have petitioned the commission to push back the deadline one year.
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DENVER
The sports game runs long, or the movie is delayed by breaking news. To find out what’s happening on the schedule, the home DTV viewer picks up the remote and clicks to the electronic program guide, which shows the new start time for the next show. The viewer intuitively trusts the screen program guide is timely, sets down the remote, grabs a handful of popcorn and keeps watching.

That’s the seamless scheduling scenario envisioned for digital television—a scenario mandated by the FCC for May 30, 2008. Saying the FCC’s deadline is impossible to meet, NAB, MSTV and Harris together have petitioned the commission to push back the deadline one year because hardware and software is not yet available for all stations to provide current and accurate data to program guide generators in real time.

DYNAMIC DATA

At the heart of the appeal is the mandatory implementation of the ATSC A-65 standard also known as Program and System Information Protocol (or PSIP—pronounced “pea-sip,” for short).

Among other critical functions, PSIP metadata identifies what is being broadcast on a channel, including the program name, start time and end time, whether it’s closed-captioned, and the program’s rating for V-chip control. The PSIP program data generated by a broadcast network, a station group, or a single station provides the basis for the print, Web and TV screen program guides or grid produced and distributed by Tribune Media and TitanTV.

“PSIP has been around for a long time,” said Art Allison, director of advanced engineering for the Science & Technology Division with NAB. Allison has played a leadership role in ATSC in developing the standard.

PSIP initially was called “static” because the data did not change after it was generated. “Dynamic PSIP” was developed in response to the FCC’s “Second Periodic Review of the Commission’s Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television” published in May 2006. Within the FCC report was an order that the DTV program data grid, properly called the Event Information Table (EIT), “shall” be accurate, which set a long-term goal for broadcasters.

PSIP generators from companies like Florical or Triveni Digital (OEM for the Harris PSIP generator) have used proprietary protocols to update the event tables, and program guide companies Titan TV and Tribune Media adjusted themselves to accept these protocols. Since EIT errors can be disruptive, ATSC’s T3/S1 specialist group (chaired by Allison) developed and published a PSIP data transmission standard called the Programming Metadata Communication Protocol (PMCP).

PMCP is being integrated into the new Broadcast eXchange Format (BXF) protocols developed by the SMPTE 22.10 committee—chaired by Chris Lennon of Harris Corp.—to communicate content metadata between the program planning, automation and traffic areas of a facility or broadcast network.

“I hesitate to predict how long it will take to grow this capability from infancy to maturity,” said Allison. “The first baby steps are being exhibited by some of the automation companies at the NAB Show this year.”

ACCURATE BY MAY 30


(click thumbnail)Jay Adrick, vice president of broadcast technologies, Harris Corp.The situation changed when the FCC published its Third Periodic Review of the DTV Transition on Jan. 30 this year. The new FCC report and order contained a statement that PSIP metadata and event tables “must” be accurate, and the resulting event tables must be accurate within 120 days, that is, by May 30, 2008. “The level of implementation of the PMCP standard is much lower than the level of implementation of the PSIP standard across the broadcast industry,” Allison said. “This is particularly true for the small to medium-sized stations that do not yet have an automation system installed. They have a major capital expenditure in front of them.”

Consequently, he said, “the FCC order has misinterpreted the capacity of most TV stations to update PSIP data as changes occur. Apart from the larger stations already automated, the NAB does not see how the FCC deadline can be met across the industry. That is why we have joined with MSTV and Harris to file a petition on February 29, asking the commission to reconsider its position.”

The issue is whether equipment will be available to meet the time requirements of the new rule, according to David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV). “Even if orders were placed immediately for the new automation equipment shown at NAB in April,” Donovan said, “I believe the 120 days requirement is impossible to meet, especially for the smaller stations.”

Making sure that PSIP data is synchronized with last-minute program changes is an important goal, said Jay Adrick, vice president of broadcast technologies for Harris Corp., “but the rulemaking change to deploy all this technology by May 30 is a bit rushed. The automated stations, by themselves, need weeks or months to get the latest PSIP software up and running, and the other stations need much more time.”

Triveni Digital’s GuideBuilder box outputs to the mulitplexer, but did not become PMCP-compliant until April, according to Rich Chernock, chief technology officer for the Princeton Junction, N.J.-based company. If traffic and master control are fully integrated into an A-65 and PMCP-compliant automation system, Chernock said, “we can help our existing customers, like the ABC owned-and-operated stations, to meet the FCC deadline, but it’s going to be tight.”

At the NAB Show, broadcast automation vendor Florical partnered with Triveni and DTV Innovations to demonstrate that the Florical AirGuide product is now PMCP-compliant for generating dynamic PSIP in real time, according to Shawn Maynard, vice president and general manager for Florical in Gainesville, Fla. But even the 200 stations that use Florical automation systems that could be updated with the latest version of AirGuide will be hard pressed to meet the May 30 deadline.

“I think the FCC should adopt a phased approach to PSIP deployment, as it’s done with the DTV transition,” Maynard said.

WORKFLOW ISSUES

The core difficulty involves station workflows, according to Mick Rinehart, vice president of product development for TitanTV.

“Our MediaStar product lets stations without automation manually update PSIP data via a Web interface, but adding that action to the workflow is a challenge, especially outside the hours when the traffic department is staffed, since master control has little time to do PSIP updates,” Rinehart said.

TitanTV’s 500 MediaStar clients include Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns 59 stations. “We just installed a new redundant TitanTV system for dynamic PSIP generation,” said Harvey Arnold, Sinclair’s corporate director of engineering. The timing of the FCC mandate was a factor in their decision, he said.

Will Sinclair be able to meet the FCC mandate by May 30? “We are going to be compliant in principle,” Arnold said, adding that Sinclair does not expect the FCC to grant the requested extension. “We think that so long as broadcasters are making a genuine effort to meet the spirit of the law, given everything else involved in the DTV transition, the FCC will not go out of its way to enforce the letter of the law.”