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  • ATSC 3.0 is coming and you should not care



    Yes, I'm a little cynical. The Advanced Television Standards Committee, the people who designed the HDTV standards we use today, have gotten a lot closer to release version 3.0 of the ATSC standard. There are some blogs out there celebrating this, such as HDGuru, who have devoted an impressive amount of time to giving you all the tiny little details of the new standard in this article. 8K resolution, interactive data, better sound, all the stuff you want. Except, you know, you'll never see it.

    The broadcast standard we use is called ATSC 1.0. So, it's pretty much a given that your next question is going to be "What happened to ATSC 2.0?" Here's the answer, hotshot -- nothing. Nothing happened with it. It was going to be this big thing to allow interactivity in broadcasting, including on demand programming. I blogged about it just last year. But hey, nothing ever happened with it, and it's not likely to. People aren't demanding this sort of feature from broadcast, because, well, THE INTERNET.

    And to be sure no one is demanding that we scrap all the TVs currently in service, just a decade after we did that the last time, no matter what the benefit to people is going to be. If ATSC 3.0 were to become the standard for US broadcasting, every TV, every camera, every broadcast transmitter, EVERYTHING, would have to change. AGAIN. Look, I think that the digital transition was a great thing because it allowed us to get rid of a broadcast standard that had been with us since 1941. NINETEEN FORTY ONE people. That's a very long time for technology. But to drop everything again after only ten years? There's no way that's going to happen.

    Broadcasters are not going to go for another massive change like they did, not for a generation or more and by that time over-the-air broadcasting could be either dead or massively smaller than it is now. Owning a TV station used to be a cash-printing machine, but since you can now stream video over the internet (and with better quality than broadcast) it's a lot more competitive. There was a time when every commercial shown on broadcast TV was money in the pocket of some station owner. Today, commercials are usually inserted by the pay-TV provider unless you have an antenna, and that means a lot less revenue. I'm not crying a big old tear for broadcasters but thinking of them as old-fashioned fat cats isn't really accurate.

    And so there is no way ATSC 3.0 is going to mean anything to anyone. It's meaningless for pay-TV providers who don't have to worry about the actual broadcast technology and can develop their own standards to provide video to the home. It's nothing at all to streaming companies like Netflix who aren't beholden at all to broadcast standards and can update their own broadcast technologies anytime they want.

    That's right, the people who actually provide you with the video you watch -- namely the pay-TV companies and the streaming companies -- don't care a bit about ATSC 3.0. Neither do broadcasters, except to the extent that you know they're already preparing a costly and stringent lobbying campaign to make sure it never gets adopted. So who cares about ATSC 3.0? I have to guess, the moms of the people on the Advanced Television Standards Committee. That's right guys (and ladies), your moms are proud of you. If that keeps the lights on over at the ATSC offices, that's wonderful. You keep on keeping on. Otherwise, seriously?

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    Comments 8 Comments
    1. PhoenixAZ's Avatar
      PhoenixAZ -
      I wish the TV industry would focus on getting rid of SD, get everything in HD first, then worry about 4 and 8K TV.
    1. Alan Gordon's Avatar
      Alan Gordon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      If ATSC 3.0 were to become the standard for US broadcasting, every TV, every camera, every broadcast transmitter, EVERYTHING, would have to change. AGAIN.
      According to the HDGuru article, every TV wouldn't have to change. It's possible that a simple flash drive sized dongle could fit on the back of a TV.

      There are multiple shows currently being filmed in UHD... some of which, like "The Blacklist" air downrezzed to 1080i or 720p OTA. As newer shows start production, I suspect that number to only increase, so the networks are ready with content (though not necessarily with the delivery). As for the local affiliates, I mean no disrespect to the local on-air talent, some of whom are quite lovely, but I don't need to see them in 4K or 8K. 1080i or an uprezzed 4K/8K resolution would be fine with me.

      As for the transmitter, many stations may have to make those changes regardless of any switch to ATSC thanks to the FCC. While my PBS, NBC/ABC, and FOX affiliate are on VHF, my CBS/MyNetworkTV/The CW affiliate, and an Independent station, currently reside at RF channels #43 and #51 respectively. In my neighboring markets, the number of stations that would need to move RF locations is considerably greater. A recent interview with Gray Television’s SVP of business affairs, Kevin Latek touched upon ATSC 3.0 who brought up the FCC incentive auction/repack. While he was vague as to whether or not Gray had a business plan, Gray mentioned elsewhere in the article that they might be interested in network affiliations potentially given up by competitors in the upcoming auction/repack. In my market, the CBS/MNTV/CW affiliate (CBS in 1080i, The CW in 720p, and MNTV in 480i) I mentioned above is owned and operated by Gray, and in my neighboring market of Dothan, Gray operates WTVY that broadcasts CBS in 1080i on 4.1, MyNetworkTV and The CW in 480i on 4.2 and 4.3, and NBC in 720p on 4.4.

      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      Neither do broadcasters, except to the extent that you know they're already preparing a costly and stringent lobbying campaign to make sure it never gets adopted.
      The HDGuru article you linked to lists Pearl, a partnership comprising eight major station groups as being actively involved with the process. Many of these station groups operate in smaller markets... markets where ATSC 3.0's support for HEVC H.265 could be used more for additional channels (and revenue streams) than 4K/8K. If you're correct that OTA broadcasting is dying, it could also help these groups cut costs. In my market, the NBC/ABC affiliate and the FOX affiliate share an antenna tower. Using HEVC H.265, Raycom and Sinclair could operate the three channels on the same RF frequency compared to the two now, and split the costs associated with broadcasting the signal. A station group could also pick up a dropped affiliation easier if other groups start dropping.

      Unless the government mandates a change to ATSC 3.0 like they did with ATSC 1.0, I don't see why a costly and stringent lobbying campaign is neccessary.

      I'm not saying we'll see ATSC 3.0, but unlike ATSC 2.0, I believe the chances are much better.

      Just my 1Ę...
    1. Stuart Sweet's Avatar
      Stuart Sweet -
      To rebut --

      The dongle idea is similar to the converter box method from the 2007-2009 era. It wouldn't add advanced features like UHD to a non-UHD TV, and would still require someone to pay to continue to watch TV, unless there is another program like there was in those days.

      Also, you say that eight broadcast groups are interested... I would point out there are hundreds of broadcast groups; I think you make my point as far as lack of interest from broadcasters.

      Finally, I'm not sure why there would be any change made from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0 unless there was a government mandate. If a broadcaster wanted to operate both an ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 facility, that broadcaster would require two separate licenses since the technologies are incompatible.
    1. Alan Gordon's Avatar
      Alan Gordon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      The dongle idea is similar to the converter box method from the 2007-2009 era. It wouldn't add advanced features like UHD to a non-UHD TV, and would still require someone to pay to continue to watch TV, unless there is another program like there was in those days.
      The converter box program was so that people still had access to TV. It outputted in SD. I see nothing wrong with a dongle that OTA customers PURCHASE to give them access to HD feeds. Stations converting to ATSC 3.0 that are afraid of losing OTA viewers could lease SD space from other stations to provide customers with an SD "lifeline" option.

      Also, I doubt broadcasters are all that interested in UHD at this time.

      [QUOTE=Stuart Sweet;15534]Also, you say that eight broadcast groups are interested... I would point out there are hundreds of broadcast groups; I think you make my point as far as lack of interest from broadcasters.

      Actually, no, I didn't say that. I said that the HDGuru article you linked to lists Pearl, "a partnership comprising eight major station groups as being actively involved with the process." Of the articles I've read on the subject, multiple station groups are interested, and some are not. I linked to an article with Gray (not one of the eight broadcast groups). He was vague as to whether or not Gray had any plans, but he seemed to like the idea. He also agreed with the general consensus I've read among people in the industry, and that's that ANY conversion to ATSC 3.0 SHOULD be done at the same time as the repack so as to lessen the financial impact on broadcasters.

      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      Finally, I'm not sure why there would be any change made from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0 unless there was a government mandate. If a broadcaster wanted to operate both an ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 facility, that broadcaster would require two separate licenses since the technologies are incompatible.
      That's not going to happen. For one thing, there's not enough channels to do so, and with the upcoming FCC auction, there will be even less. I don't have to bring up the costs associated with running a secondary transmitter.

      Another consensus I've read is that any conversion to 3.0 will require local broadcasters working together. I know in my market, I have an IND station that airs a single 480i SD feed. They could lease some of that bandwidth to the other local stations and provide an MPEG2 SD ATSC 1.0 sub-channel for all the local channel's primary feeds without a problem. I know of some similar stations in other markets.
    1. haszconjohnson's Avatar
      haszconjohnson -
      Look, I realize that this article was written almost two years ago, but, hopefully, you have updated your perspective since then. However, I retired from a broadcast facility with whom I remain in contact. They upgraded to ATSC 2.0 several years ago, but, with ATSC 3.0 on the verge of approval, they opted to not upgrade to ATSC 2.1(interactive TV capability). They fully intend to begin broadcasting ATSC 3.0 in 2018. To say that broadcasters are not interested upgrading to ATSC 3.0 and people don't need to be concerned about it was irresponsible. ATSC 3.0 will enable broadcasters to compete on a much higher plane with cable and satellite companies. When you consider the fact that the conversion to ATSC 3.0 does not even compare with the cost of converting digital HD TV standards, it won't take long for all broadcasters to convert. As that happens there will be more and more ATSC 2.0 HDTVs made obsolete.
      Consider, also, the capability to broadcast directly to mobile devices will be vastly improved. Be careful what you say.
    1. haszconjohnson's Avatar
      haszconjohnson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      To rebut --

      The dongle idea is similar to the converter box method from the 2007-2009 era. It wouldn't add advanced features like UHD to a non-UHD TV, and would still require someone to pay to continue to watch TV, unless there is another program like there was in those days.

      Also, you say that eight broadcast groups are interested... I would point out there are hundreds of broadcast groups; I think you make my point as far as lack of interest from broadcasters.

      Finally, I'm not sure why there would be any change made from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0 unless there was a government mandate. If a broadcaster wanted to operate both an ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 facility, that broadcaster would require two separate licenses since the technologies are incompatible.
      You are still assuming no broadcasters converted to ATSC 2.0. Also, you are claiming that Digital HD TV was something the FCC came up with on its own and mandated. Broadcasters had been trying for more than twenty years to improve television viewing, but the FCC actually fought it for seven or eight years. Pressure from the industry forced the FCC to investigate changes that would have to be made in order to provide HD services. ATSC wasn't an organization set up by the FCC. It was an organization set up by the television industry including networks, broadcasters and manufacturers. The industry came up with more than 30 analog HD systems that would operate with the confines of the FCC specifications. All of these were thrown out the door after the first digital format was submitted, in the early nineties. The change was mandated by the industry and approved by the FCC. Of course, the approval by the FCC mandated a change in technology on the part of the industry and the public.
      The broadcasting group from which I retired owns and operates more stations than any other broadcasting group. They are looking forward to the change.
    1. Stuart Sweet's Avatar
      Stuart Sweet -
      I love the controversy this article has stirred up... I still maintain that when broadcasters look at the low level of interest in 4K at this time, and TV manufacturers look at the market slumping as soon as people hear they will have to buy yet another TV to get an internal tuner, and when Congress realizes it would have to spend money for a converter program, the idea will be dead on arrival.
    1. Alan Gordon's Avatar
      Alan Gordon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Sweet View Post
      I love the controversy this article has stirred up... I still maintain that when broadcasters look at the low level of interest in 4K at this time, and TV manufacturers look at the market slumping as soon as people hear they will have to buy yet another TV to get an internal tuner, and when Congress realizes it would have to spend money for a converter program, the idea will be dead on arrival.

      • 4K appears to be very low on broadcasters' desired interest in ATSC 3.0
      • People would only have to buy a new TV if they wanted an INTERNAL tuner (as you stated)...
      • Congress will NOT have to spend money on a converter program (not that they did the first time, IMHO) because outside of a few sub-channels, most channels should still be view-able via ATSC 1.0. It may not be as high quality on ATSC 1.0 as they're used to, but with broadcasters stuffing more and more sub-channels on a single frequency, broadcasters have already been lowering the PQ to lower and lower standards.


      I'm aware that you and I strongly disagree on the issue, but I'm sticking to my belief that's it's coming.