McAdams On: TV's Moving Parts

WILDERNESS—There is a practice in the introspective communities of contemplating uncertainty and accepting all outcomes. I think at no other time has this concept been as applicable to the broadcast TV industry as it is today, for a number of reasons.

1. Technology is developing faster than it can be deployed. Consider mobile DTV. The folks behind Dyle and its related initiatives deserve all due credit for their efforts. Remember that it was launched by nearly 130 TV stations, including WCBS in New York, and Belken and Audiovox were making receivers for it.

In the meantime, work on the ATSC broadcast standard skipped over 2.0 entirely as it became clear that a major overhaul was in order. ATSC 3.0 inherently would handle mobile, making the type of overlay used for Dyle obsolete.

2. Audience behavior and preference is becoming dynamically individualized. We all know that we all want what we want when we want it. Let us not now contemplate what that implies about our emotional intelligence, but rather what it means for television content distribution and presentation. Media companies will have to be able to turn out new channels for new platforms and form factors on a dime, and these may rise and fall like species in the fossil record, only faster. Much, much faster.

3. Virtualization is replacing big iron in the media facility. This was so conceptual just a few years ago it seemed like sci-fi. No more. Disney’s move to virtualize ABC’s master control is a huge signal that this type of technology is reaching maturity

4. The emerging broadcast TV transmission standard represents a fundamental departure from decades of linear one-way delivery.

5. And perhaps the most certain of uncertainties: the first-ever voluntary incentive auction of television spectrum to wireless providers.

These factors now comprise the backdrop upon which broadcasting and “television” itself is being re-engineered. What it will look like on the other side, we’ve only begun to imagine.