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This just in, sort of; non-real-time technology may enhance TV news, bring new revenue

The phrase "non-real-time news" may seem a bit oxymoronic, especially for an industry that rushes journalists, uplinks, ENG trucks and IP-based newsgathering backpacks into the field all in an attempt to report first from the scene of a breaking story.

But those apparently contradictory terms "non-real-time" and "news" may just sum up the next big technological innovation broadcasters will exploit to better serve viewers, deliver more news and eventually develop new revenue opportunities. That's because non-real-time, NRT for short, technology — soon to be part of the mobile DTV standard and shortly thereafter a part of ATSC 2.0, which will bring several important new services to stationary TVs — will give local stations a powerful new way to push news, sports, traffic, weather and other information to the receivers 24/7 in the background.

"Non-real time is pushing content in advance of consumption," explains Rich Chernock, CTO of Triveni Digital and chairman of ATSC's TG1 Technology and Standards Group and the ad hoc group where NRT standards work is being done. "NRT allows content to be stored in the receiver, available for viewers to consume when they want."

NRT will allow broadcasters to enhance services that go beyond their traditional linear programming. For news, that means expanding beyond the bounds of stories presented sequentially by an anchor, meteorologist or sports director. NRT gives broadcasters the chance to push content out that is of interest to individual viewers in their transport stream around the clock.

By tapping the potential of metadata associated with individual topics, such as a favorite sports team or political candidate, broadcasters deploying NRT give viewers with NRT-enabled receivers a way to pluck stories out of the air on topics that viewers identify as interesting. In essence, NRT makes it possible for OTA broadcasters to deliver personalized newscasts available to viewers on demand even though it is a one-way system.

For broadcasters, deploying NRT should be relatively simple from a technology standpoint, says Chernock. All that will be required is a new server. Where things get a little more complex is workflow. "NRT has to be tied into the workflow of the station. Now the traffic system and automation system make things happen at the right time," he says. "NRT will have to become a part of that workflow."

Chernock also sees implementation of NRT by stations as advancing the trend towards closer cooperation between broadcast engineering and IT departments. "Lots of station groups have people focused on the Web side, while normal TV operations have been the domain of engineers. NRT will create a lot of crosstalk between the two," Chernock says.

Broadcasters are likely to get their first chance to make NRT a reality around the time of the 2012 NAB Show, April 14-19, in Las Vegas, when NRT functionality will have completed final ATSC balloting and is released as a standard. The next big NRT standards milestone, says Chernock, will be later in 2012 when ATSC 2.0, which will bring NRT to stationary receivers, enters the candidate phase of the ATSC standardization process.

Despite the progress, Chernock says he anticipates some in the broadcast community to look upon NRT with a bit of skepticism. "'Why do you think this will work this time' will be the question on many people's minds," says Chernock. Pointing to attempts that go back at least 10 years to leverage datacasting and other technologies to accomplish something similar to NRT, Chernock says broadcasters have a point.

"But a lot has happened. People are getting used to sitting back to do other things with their TVs," he says. Add to that the fact that TV manufacturers are building sets with computer memory and processing built in, and things will likely be different for NRT, he says.

Besides, broadcasters have powerful incentives to deploy NRT, including using the technology as a way to remain competitive against competing on-demand media and the chance to create a new revenue streams. NRT isn't restricted to news applications. It also, for example, supports conditional access and new ad models.

"The low-hanging fruit revolves around ads and even new telescoping ads," says Chernock. "There is the opportunity to put ads into things. A lot of what works on the Web will work here."