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Sinclair ATSC 3.0 Receiver Spec Q&A: Mark Aitken

BALTIMORE—Sinclair Broadcast Group, ever the proponent of the emerging two-way broadcast TV transmission standard known as ATSC 3.0, announced on Oct. 31 an effort to develop receiver specifications. Sinclair announced that it and its subsidiary, ONE Media, were developing receiver technology that would provide the type of immediate audience usage and behavior data now available to online entities. Since receiver specs are typically the bailiwick of receiver manufacturers a la the Consumer Technology Association, and audience metrics of third-party providers, TV Technology wondered just how this effort would work and what would be involved.
Sinclair Vice President of Advanced Technology Mark Aitken obliged.

TV Technology:
How will these receiver specs work? Will you guys draw them up and share them with the Consumer Technology Association and/or set-makers?
Mark Aitken: We will share across the interrelated industries, and drive specific requirements. Instead of having disparate entities—we create and distribute/transmit content, and somebody else decides what they need to receive those services—hoping we have a distribution system that works, we work to define the end-to-end requirements across multiple classes of devices in multiple service environments. Starting with identifying and defining the full “link budget.”
When you take up a direct-to-home satellite service, for example, you don’t subscribe to a service separately, buy your own receiver separately, and hook it up to your own dish separately—and hope it works! It might, but most often not well!

TVT:So can we expect a Sinclair Beyondfinity set-top box? How will this model comply with federal DTV receiver requirements?
Aitken: Too early to be speculating. We will do whatever is required to drive the market.

TVT:Are you working directly with a chipmaker, and if so, which one?
Aitken: We are in discussions with current known ATSC 3.0 chip manufacturers, but also reaching out to other non-traditional partners and discussing investment opportunities. We have an initiative (future announcement) underway to bring other non-traditional ATSC DTT countries into the global opportunities opened with 3.0.
What if a chip said, “Made in India”?

TVT:Indeed… let’s get back to that, but first, will these features be present in early receiver chipsets?
Aitken: From our perspective—and I would say mirrored understanding by most of the broadcast players committed to 3.0—we need complete functionality “out of the box.” Of particular concern is the idea that activities within CTA are already working towards limiting important elements of the for ATSC 3.0 physical layer. Expect broadcasters to establish the equivalent of a “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval receiver compliance (not to be confused with an ATSC conformance) program.

TVT:OK, back to India. Sinclair was a “Gold Partner” for October’s Broadcast India Show in Mumbai. What was that about?
Aitken: We are also a lifetime Sponsor of the Broadcast Engineering Society of India, and will be speaking/attending their annual conference in February. India is about opportunities to leverage an extremely capable workforce and manufacturing community. ATSC 3.0 will go Global, and that is good for the ecosystem. We are working to impact every market we can in every way imaginable.

TVT:Should we expect some ATSC 3.0 news with regard to India, which adopted DVB-2 in 2008 and isstill transitioning to it from analog?
Aitken: They are still massively analog, but this present government and the Prime Minister have an aggressive view of catalyzing change. “Digital India” and “Make in India” are two very far reaching government initiatives. We hope that with the help of the PMO, Parliament and industry players we can provide understanding of the transformative opportunities ATSC 3.0 could provide in a convergent “5G” hybrid service environment, and we are developing a Pilot project that we will deploy/support to highlight many of the most valuable attributes.

TVT:South Koreaplans to launch ATSC 3.0next year. How would this full link-budget model square with 3.0 deployments worldwide?
Aitken: Link budgets are link budgets. They tie use cases with service requirements. We hope to add value to the entire ATSC 3.0 ecosystem.

TVT:Will consumers be able to opt out of data-gathering?
Aitken:Full compliance with all privacy requirements.

TVT:These, theFCC’s broadband privacy rulesadopted Oct. 27?
Aitken: When is all of something other than everything?

TVT:Fair enough. Will there be a tiered service where opt-outs pay for certain features and content that the data-gathered get for free? 
Aitken: Pretty sure it is not a one-way street. Tiered service op-out may limit access to some of the services…yes. Pay is a different/parallel issue, and up to the service provider.

TVT:Is Sinclair planning a subscription-based auxiliary service model in addition to providing a primary video signal?
Aitken: That surely one of the value equations we are contemplating, as are other broadcasters. To be competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace, we must look at all opportunities and determine if we can provide reasons for consumers to move to the new services we will be fully capable of supporting.

TVT:Does this indicate that part of ONE Media is to be a provider of viewing data/program ratings?
Aitken: What is being done will enable a central operator or multiple operators. Whether that is ONE Media or some “NewCo” (or an industry partnership or other) is too early to define. The work we are doing must be done, and we have decided to make sure it gets done.

TVT:But don’t advertisers demand third-party audience metrics?
Aitken: First, we must ensure all the hooks are in place. Then we have to ensure the data can be gathered. Then we will find a way to create value (create a currency) that parties can trust. Part of today’s problems are the very sample size (a few hundred samples for millions of viewers?), and extrapolation that cannot possibly know where individual users/viewers are coming from or going to. No way to really know what the viewer/user community is doing. We would like them to play longer in our world, and in the future, that will be possible if we get it right! And our world, the world of Broadcasting, will expand and offer more places for folks to go and enjoy the entertainment/information opportunities we offer in a converged hybrid future. We are ready to compete!

TVT:Will the spec explicitly dictate a broadband connection and application framework?
Aitken: Provisions for a broadband connection, yes. Dictate? Service-dependent. This first and second level of activity may be passed on to specific service organization and built upon for incorporation. Specs define ways to provide capabilities, not a demand to be incorporated except as required by the service (use case).

TVT:Will this spec be adoptable by the wireless industry and thus make possible for an ATSC 3.0 chip in a smartphone?
Aitken: We are wireless.

There is already a serious discussion underway to bring some of this activity into 3GPP to ensure a seamless way is defined for 3.0 eventual incorporation. That is a bit of a separate, business-driven discussion. However…
You can easily imagine the ATSC 3.0 standard being embraced and moved forward in emerging global environments outside of the U.S., where the wireless carriers do not define all of the specifics of devices. Consumers choose the devices they want, they separately subscribe with the mobile service provider of their choice.
In such an open bring-your-own device environment—with mobile 3.0-enabled services built into open devices and consumers buying devices aligned with the broadcast service—then a separate wireless carrier selected.
Create the proper environment with consumer demand, this will happen here in the future.

TVT:That’s a major shift in the current wireless device/service model. I can’t help but think it would take an unimaginably compelling offer to dislodge it, like something along the lines of, “and a magic pony, too.”
Aitken: It is only a shift for the U.S. The rest of the world operates in this fashion…buy the device of your choice, with the capabilities you want, then subscribe to a voice and data plan with the service provider of YOUR choice. Now, the “magic pony” would be enough for my granddaughter, but will not sway most people ;-) There will always be free TV, and we will make it mobile. Better than a “magic pony”? Then, a whole bunch of better things…

TVT:What else should we know about this technology?
Aitken: All of this (above) is primarily focused on the “receive” side. On the data side, there is a whole other long list of things to discuss. We will get to that at some point I presume…

TVT:OK, well, that. We’re all a little skittish about data collection and the campfire tales of our TVs watching us. What data does Sinclair expect to collect, and how do you expect to use it? Dynamic advertising, for example? What else?
AitkenDynamic advertising…yes. Personalized services…yes. Alternative channels that are supported in a hybrid environment, internet delivered, new OTT choices. Service following in the OTA environment. Zonal advertising? Hyperlocal services? The list goes on…and on…

“Cover” image of Airwavz.TV Quarterback Android smartphone receiver case for illustrative purposes only.
For more an ATSC 3.0, see
TV Technology’sATSC 3.0 silo.

Also see…
Oct. 31, 2016
Sinclair, ONE Media, Propose ATSC 3.0 Receiver Specs
The idea is to take charge of audience measurement versus farming it out to third-party metric providers.

March 22, 2016
Q&A: Mark Aitken on ONE Media ATSC 3.0 SFN Trials
A consortium of broadcast technology developers reported doing field tests of ATSC 3.0 concepts over a single frequency network on the East Coast on Monday this week.