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ATSC 3.0 Transition Strategies

ARLINGTON, Va. — ATSC 3.0 plans are moving forward across the broadcast community, spurred by ATSC’s rapid action to complete the standards set, aggressive FCC rulemaking timelines and the start of station repacking as an outcome of the broadcast incentive auction. While opinions differ about the nationwide rollout timeline, the most likely use cases and the best new revenue opportunities, everyone now seems to agree this transition will indeed happen across the United States over the next several years, starting in 2018.

Stations being repacked are taking advantage of that “opportunity.” Most are buying up to “ATSC 3.0 ready” gear and adding the appropriate incremental transmitter power and vertical polarization at their own expense above and beyond federal reimbursement. Many station GMs who were initially happy about not having to deal with repacking logistics now wish they were able to take advantage of the technology refresh that repacking offers.

As a technologist, I find this all very exciting. As an industry, we are moving to replace a largely fixed, 20-year-old technology stack with one based on the flexibility and adaptability of Internet Protocol technologies. We now have a new set of voluntary standards that allow the broadcast industry to move forward with less regulation and to do so by following a model that has worked very well for our mobile wireless colleagues. We are transitioning to an RF transmission platform equally well-suited to reach fixed, mobile and indoor devices and using a spectrum band that is optimal across these use cases.

[Read: ATSC 3.0 Marches On]

However, as a technology, strategy and change management consultant, I am concerned about stations not viewing ATSC 3.0 opportunities through a strategic lens. Instead, many are looking at this opportunity as simply a technology transition—a “tech refresh.” That is an unfortunate and short-sighted approach to what holds the promise of transformational change across the business functions of a station.


“How can you have a five year strategy plan when you don’t know what will happen in five minutes?” – Dilbert, a creation of Scott Adams

So, how should an organization think about ATSC 3.0 strategically? Follow best practices for strategic planning, implementation, operations and measurement.


“Confront the brutal facts.”

– Jim Collins, Bestselling Author of Good to Great

First, determine what is happening with other stations in your market. Who is moving quickly vs. waiting? Who needs a partner for channel sharing? What are the timelines other stations are planning and working against? Are stations leveraging an FCC-reimbursed repack to prepare for ATSC 3.0 infrastructure? How will the competitive landscape and service mix change as stations implement ATSC 3.0? Is anyone planning for SFN transmitters?

The transition to ATSC 3.0 requires a coordinated and collaborative plan across two or more broadcasters, so you need to understand your market if you want to play.

Create a balanced view. Identify and understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Be objective. Engage your whole organization, not just the technology team.

Is ATSC 3.0 part of your current five-year strategic plan? It needs to be.


“Strategy must have continuity, it can’t be constantly reinvented.”

– Michael Porter, Harvard Business School professor and bestselling author

Reasons for changing to an optional new strategic technology must tie directly to your overall mission, vision and values. You are not in the broadcast technology business. How you choose to exploit this innovative technology should directly align with the essence of your business. Mission: What is the organization’s purpose? Vision: What is its future state? Values: What does the organization stand for?


“If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.”

– Yogi Berra

What are you going to do with the new technology? Consider how your service mix can and should change. For example, do you want to add UHD, HDR, etc.? Do you want to offer services to others to build new revenue streams (for example, hosting legacy ATSC 1.0 services for other stations or sharing capacity for datacasting)?

How will you exploit advanced audience measurement, mobile services, emergency alerting and datacasting?

Does your governance allow you to be a channel host or to partner with another station? This is a particularly important question for non-commercial stations whose license may be held by local government or institutional entities.

Are you organized optimally to best exploit ATSC 3.0 services? Is your board aware of and ready to take on ATSC 3.0 discussions?


“Most organizations overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.”

– Mark Sween, CEO, Hawthorne Management

It goes without saying that early and detailed planning will be critical to take full advantage of your ATSC 3.0 transition. You will need to map out desired capabilities, relative importance and how they will be implemented.

You will need to consider tradeoffs between robustness and digital capacity.

Account for ATSC 3.0 and any repacked channels at the same time. There is no reason to do this twice.


“It is not the strongest of the species that survive … but the one most responsive to change.”

– Charles Darwin

Close the loop. How are you doing against the objectives you established earlier? Are the new services offering what you expected? Be sure to define measurable metrics for each objective and track them.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change course. None of us really knows what viewers will actually do when offered new services and technologies. If they go a different direction than your strategy assumes, reassess, update and continue forward. The good news is that ATSC 3.0 gives us a powerful, flexible and less regulated platform that will — for the first time — allow us to change and adapt just like our competitors.

John McCoskey is an Industry Executive – Technology, Media and Entertainment for Eagle Hill Consulting. Follow him on Twitter at @John_McCoskey.

For a comprehensive list of TV Technology’s ATSC 3.0 coverage, see our ATSC3 silo.