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McAdams On: TV’s Moving Parts

HOLLYWOOD—There are more moving parts in the broadcast TV business than a Swiss watch with tectonic-sized components. There are three major dynamics at play: the transmission signal form, the virtualization of the plant that generates it, and the spectrum upon which it travels.

The signal form is under major renovation by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. The developing transmission standard—ATSC 3.0—holds the promise of 4K and mobile, targeted advertising, on-demand, data delivery and perpetual youth. That last one is iffy, but 3.0 may need creative marketing. It will not work with a single existing TV set, and there will be no spare channel to make the switch. There are very smart people behind 3.0, but from 10,000 feet, it looks like a heavy lift.

Concurrently, we have an acceleration of “function collapse,” which referred to the software impact on the hardware that yielded things like channel-in-a-box. So you didn’t need so many boxes.

Now, we’re moving into an era where you don’t need no stinkin’ boxes. Those boxes are now code strings sitting on a server somewhere in the “cloud.” This media facility virtualization is just beginning, but it appears to be inevitable in the face of new display forms coming down the pike at a rapid clip. Think ABC’s move into virtual reality for news. There will never again be a time when display platforms are static.

And finally, the spectrum auction looms, not unlike the contrived “crisis” created to justify it. Will it work? Sprint tapped out; Verizon is indifferent. The biggest group of sellers that we know of consisted of around 80 TV stations—out of about 2,000 full-power and Class A TV licensees. What will free TV and local news look like afterward? Who knows?

All I do know is that I see more folks in the broadcast community focused on doing their jobs than selling out.