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What Tom Said: ATSC and the Korean Connection

WASHINGTON—Congratulations to the Advanced Television Systems Committee for elevating the “Physical Layer” transmission system for ATSC 3.0 next-generation television broadcasting to “Candidate Standard” status. The standards organization has accomplished a major feat, harnessing the expertise of companies and researchers across the broadcast “spectrum,” not only in the U.S. but around the world.

Although the ATSC is reluctant to characterize the development of 3.0 as being “fast-tracked,” let’s not kid ourselves; this work is not being done in a vacuum. Between the impact of next year’s spectrum auctions (prompted by an FCC that is hostile to broadcasting), the decreasing interest among millennials for traditional television and the increasing reluctance of new players in the media world to adhere to any kind of standards, our industry is being forced to adapt to today’s accelerated pace of technological change. We don’t have the luxury of time that we had with ATSC 1.0.

One of the chief caveats about ATSC 3.0 is the fact that it is not backward-compatible, that a whole new generation of TV sets and mobile devices will have to be developed to handle the transmissions. Unlike the transition to DTV, there will be no government-sponsored program to help consumers this time. In addition, the jury is still out about how much support the major networks will put behind the standard and we’re still waiting to see when or if the National Association of Broadcasters will formally endorse it.

Although the primary work on the standard is based in the United States, there is another country that could very well play a major role in its success—Korea. The world’s 11th largest economic power is home to two of the world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturers—Samsung and LG Electronics—who have also played an important part in the development of ATSC 3.0. Add to that the fact that the Korean government is pushing for broadcasting the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in UHD (although there is no formal commitment on how it will be delivered), and the picture gets more interesting.

“It’s become a national imperative in Korea to have wireless free Ultra HD before the 2018 Olympics,” said Rich Redmond, chief product officer for GatesAir. “The government has allocated new spectrum—not a repack—part of the 700 MHz is going to broadcasters for additional transmission methods to deliver Ultra HD.”

Trials are taking place both here in the U.S. (by groups like ONE Media and FutureCast) and in Korea by ETRI (Electronics Telecommunications Research Institute), but unlike here in the U.S., official govern-mentsupport for the standard is strong. “There may not be a mandate here [in the U.S.], but there’s clearly a mandate in Korea and that’s going to drive Samsung and LG to get [the standard] into consumer electronics,” Richmond said. “All the Korean broadcasters we met at NAB had very specific questions about how it’s being delivered.”

Could Korea save free over-the-air broadcasting in the United States? That’s a stretch, but without them, the road to success could be more difficult to tread.