Posted on June 2, 2014 in ATSC News
By SAM MATHENY
Vice President, Policy & Innovation, Capitol Broadcasting
As the best and brightest minds in the industry develop the ATSC 3.0 standard, now is the time to prepare for the transition to next-generation television broadcasting, says Sam Matheny, Capitol Broadcasting’s VP of Policy & Innovation. At the 2014 ATSC Broadcast Television Conference in May, Matheny, who chairs the Transition Subcommittee of the ATSC Board, addressed the audience of broadcasting executives, technologists and policy wonks. Following are excerpts from his remarks:
“Good results without good planning. That’s good luck, not good management.”
– Ben Waters
Some of you may be asking, “How can we talk about a transition plan to next-generation broadcasting when we don’t even have the new standard yet?” Isn’t this kind of like the old Yogi Berra quote? “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”
I really don’t think so. The transition is just too important to put off planning for it. Many of the issues of the transition will be the same – and they will be hard – and that is irrespective of the technical specifications of the standard.
With history as our guide, we must plan now.
The last transition of full power stations in the U.S. took 13 years, from FCC’s adoption of the ATSC A/53 Digital TV Standard in 1996 to the 2009 analog TV shut off.
It included simulcasts of both analog and digital signals. It had phased transmission requirements based on market size. It had phased reception requirements based on screen size.
It included three delays, including a final four-month delay that was signed into law just one week before the then-current deadline.
And, what did it bring us? What is this momentum we want to keep or build?
It created lots of winners.
For consumer electronics manufacturers, it delivered a hundreds of millions of new TV set sales and billions of dollars of revenue.
For the broadcasters, it delivered sustainable relevancy in terms of quality. Broadcasting HDTV meant we could offer viewers the best available pictures, sound and storytelling. It also brought new revenue opportunities in multicasting, mobile, subscription and ancillary data services. The largest revenue streams may be from the sustained viewing of our channels made possible by HD as well as the relationships that creates with our cable and satellite distribution partners for more equitable retransmission terms.
For the government, it meant gaining access to spectrum that could be auctioned off to generate revenue. But, it also meant a strengthening of our nation’s common medium – free over-the-air television – with better quality and a wider diversity of programming.
For the viewers, it meant a whole new entertainment experience at home: bigger wider screens, surround sound, and more channels. In my house, with a pair of indoor rabbit ears and a converter box, I can get over 22 channels of free OTA content. Dozens of new networks and channels have launched as digital sub-channels – movie channels, retro-TV channels, music channels, kids programming, lifestyle and entertainment channels, shopping channels, ethnic channels and so on.
All of this is reflected in resurgence of OTA viewing, too. Over-the-air and over-the-top represent a powerful combination to provide linear and on-demand content. People are cutting cords in record numbers and the percentage of OTA only households have nearly doubled since the transition. And they’re watching an average of 4.5 hours of TV per day.
So how does this compare with other countries?
The average transition time around the world seems to be about 10 years. Some are running much longer, but the quickest transitions have been in smaller geographic area countries and most of those still took six-plus years to implement. Larger countries – both in terms of population and geography – seem to take longer.
There’s simply a great deal of planning that must go into changing systems that tens or hundreds of millions of people rely upon in their daily lives.
Some countries – like the UK and Germany – did regional transitions. China is doing its transition by channel allocation, moving different channels to digital over time.
But what if we look at different technologies – not TV – for transition guidance?
Let’s take HD Radio. In 2002, the FCC selected HD Radio as the U.S. digital standard. HD Radio is voluntary; 12 years later many major stations are broadcasting HD Radio, while many still are not. Over 16.5 million cars have HD Radio. This is a different kind of transition and has yielded different results.
So, with this history as a backdrop, what type of planning are we doing for the next major broadcast television transition? How are we going to keep the momentum?
We’re focused on how to create lots of winners again. How can we put this puzzle together in a way such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts? We’re focused on keeping the momentum going with quality, diversity and new business opportunities.
We’re looking at a number of scenarios and issues.
We’re dissecting and cross-referencing these to see what combinations produce problems and which ones provide solutions. Examples of scenarios include:
There are a number of issues to be considered, including impact on the audience, possibility for intereference, duration, availability of spectrum and industry partners:
Impact on audience
Possibility for interference
Availability of Spectrum
Solid work is under way.
As you can see, we have more questions than answers right now. But the ATSC 3.0 transition planning may just be like a different Yogi Berra quote: “It is 90% mental and the other half physical.”
The good news is we’ve got some of the best and brightest folks involved in the ATSC working on next-gen broadcasting. And we’re not past the “BICOP.” You know what that is, right? The “Bright Idea Cut Off Point.” That’s the point where new ideas are no longer helpful and we just have to plow forward and execute.
Now is the time for bright ideas. We need your ideas, advice and wisdom to build and transition to a better future. We’ve all got to contribute – to give 100 percent or more – and when we do, we will all win.
Please join this process, contribute your talent, your ideas and your passion. Let’s keep the momentum!
Posted in ATSC News
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The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.