CHAT ROOM: Public TV Stations Ready ATSC 3.0 Plans

In the Chat Room this month, THE STANDARD sat down with Marc Hand, CEO and co-founder of Public Media Company, who also leads the Public Media Venture Group, a coalition that includes stations that serve more than 188 million Americans – and that group is squarely focused on the potential for ATSC 3.0 with public TV broadcasters.  Since its founding more than a quarter century ago, Public Media Company has advised more than 300 public radio and TV stations and independent media organizations to drive innovative and sustainable public broadcasting.

THE STANDARD:  Why was the Public Media Venture Group formed, and how many stations are already part of the group?

HAND:  The Public Media Venture Group, or PMVG for short hand, consists of 24 public television licensees that operate 81 stations reaching 188 million people across the country.

The Public Media Venture Group was formed to bring the most entrepreneurial voices in public television together to fully explore and develop the full potential of ATSC 3.0 and to experiment with new products and services that emerge from ATSC 3.0. The PMVG will test and then ultimately implement new service and business models that benefit public stations and their communities.

The impetus for forming the group came out of a series of workshops on ATSC 3.0 that the Public Media Company convened last year. We held 3 meetings that brought together over 50 managers as well as participants from PBS, CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), and APTS (America’s Public Television Stations). It was clear, coming out of the meetings, that there’s significant interest in better understanding ATSC 3 opportunities that match with the mission and business interests of public media. Stations participating in the PMVG from coast to coast* see it as a key development resource nationally that reflects the needs and interests of the PMVG stations.

THE STANDARD:  How will ATSC 3.0 technology factor into what PMVG is planning?

HAND:  Delivering value from ATSC 3.0 technology is the primary focus of the PMVG’s work. We’re working with our investor stations to help them on three levels.

First, technical support and guidance. Helping our stations navigate the operational challenges of the 3.0 transition and repack will be critical. That could include 1.0/3.0 delivery strategies, lighthouse agreements, equipment purchasing, working with commercial broadcasters, and so on.

Second, media industry coordination. Public broadcasting is somewhat unusual in that all our stations are locally owned and operated. This helps make public media unique, and it also presents some challenges when many of the other media players are large commercial groups where decisions get made at the national rather than local level. The PMVG will be a bridge between our local stations and the commercial and non-commercial entities that are embracing Next Gen TV. 

And third, and equally important, new opportunity development. Ultimately, the PMVG stations represent the group that will develop and implement new business and social impact opportunities for their stations and communities. For instance, in the areas of education, public safety, local service, B2B (business-to-business) and government, or even new opportunities that haven’t yet fully emerged.  The PMVG will be a catalyst to generate, develop, test and implement new content and service opportunities for public broadcasters.  

THE STANDARD:  Marc, public broadcasters were the first to widely embrace digital multicasting sub-channels.  Do you see similar leadership opportunities for public broadcasters and the many facets of ATSC 3.0 technology?

HAND:  Absolutely. The stations that are part of the venture group are very keen to embrace the new technological opportunities offered by ATSC 3.0. This leadership and entrepreneurial group of stations are prepared to lead the way in improving local service and building new business and service models tied to 3.0. Public media is full of creative, passionate and mission-driven leaders that want to embrace new opportunities and technologies that will enhance the range of opportunities stations have to better serve their local communities. 

There are exciting opportunities for public television to improve its content offerings through ATSC 3 as well as a host of other service and business options that the stations involved in the PMVG are eager to explore. Whether that’s in augmented or virtual reality, services for children and educators, working in partnership with universities and research institutions, improving public safety, or developing and participating in joint ventures with commercial broadcasters or other technology companies.

Now that the ATSC and FCC have made 3.0 a reality, it’s up to us to take full advantage of this new technology and ensure that public media rises to the challenge and creates products and services that deliver meaningful value in new and exciting ways for communities across the country.

* Public Media Venture Group members: Arkansas ETN; Alabama PTV; Georgia Public Broadcasting; Ideastream, Cleveland; Iowa Public TV; KCET, Los Angeles; KETC, St. Louis; KQED, San Francisco; KUEN, Utah;  KVIE, Sacramento; Nebraska PTV; New Mexico PBS; Rocky Mountain PBS; UNC-TV, North Carolina; Vegas PBS; WCTE, Cookeville, Tenn.; WETA, Washington; WFYI, Indianapolis; WGBH, Boston; WJCT, Jacksonville, Fla.; WKAR; Michigan State University; WNET, New York; WOSU, The Ohio State University; and WTTW, Chicago.