New Opportunities for Next Gen Broadcasters and Simulcast “Host” Stations, but Controversies Remain.
Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Report and Order authorizing television broadcasters to use the “Next Generation” broadcast television (Next Gen TV) transmission standard (also called “ATSC 3.0”) on a voluntary, market-driven basis. This Order may herald a revolutionary change in TV broadcasting, opening new business models for Next Gen broadcasters as well as for other stations that act as “hosts.”
The Order requires full power TV stations voluntarily transmitting in ATSC 3.0 will still be required, however, to continue transmitting current-generation digital television (DTV) service using the ATSC 1.0 transmission standard to their viewers. This requirement to simulcast ATSC 1.0 with ATSC 3.0 is to be accomplished by stations partnering with other stations acting as “hosts” to transmit the “guest” station’s 1.0 or 3.0 format signal. Class A and low power TV (“LPTV”) stations will be allowed to “flash cut” directly to transmission in ATSC 3.0. In connection with the release of the Order, the Commission also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on issues related to exceptions and waivers of the simulcast requirement, and on whether to let broadcasters use vacant TV channels to encourage use of Next Gen TV. These changes will also likely impact MVPDs and even wireless carriers. However, the Order has generated significant controversies that may not go away quickly. But let’s take a few steps back before we address all that.
First off, what is Next Gen TV? Glad you asked.
ATSC 3.0 is the new TV transmission standard developed by Advanced Television Systems Committee as “the world’s first Internet Protocol (IP)-based broadcast transmission platform.” It is designed to merge the capabilities of over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting with the broadband viewing and information delivery methods of the Internet, while using the same 6 MHz channels presently allocated for DTV service. The promise of this new TV transmission standard is the potential to enable broadcasters to provide consumers with a “more immersive and enjoyable television viewing experience” both at home and on mobile screens. Live TV transmission to mobile phones would open a potentially huge new market for TV broadcasters. Additionally, ATSC 3.0 is designed to enable delivery of “Ultra High Definition” television, with greater spatial resolution, higher dynamic range and frame rate, along with enhanced audio.
Lastly, ATSC 3.0 is also designed to allow broadcasters to geographically localize, as well as personalize, the delivery of TV programming. Geographic localization can be used to provide targeted public safety messages. But most importantly for the broadcast industry, it can provide targeted advertising, a la the Internet. Put this all together, and implementation of this next standard may not only be more revolutionary than the implementation of DTV, but it holds the promise of providing broadcasters significant new bases for revenue streams. That’s big. Notably, by requiring the simulcasting of ATSC 3.0 and 1.0 for full power stations, the Order establishes an important role for LPTV, Class A, and independent full power stations as “host” stations. This may be a temporary but multi-year economic lifeline for such stations.
A number of regulatory issues are triggered with the authorizing TV stations to commence broadcasting on the ATSC 3.0 standard.
While the text of the Order has not been released as of the time this blog publication, based on the FCC’s fact sheet and draft order (released last month), here are some of the most important elements of the Order: