Non-Real-Time Content Delivery

NRT a Centerpiece of Emerging ATSC 2.0 Standard

By: Richard Chernock, TG1 Chairman

Contrary to popular belief, broadcasting is not dying. However, to paraphrase an ancient Chinese proverb, “Unless we change our direction, we will end up where we are headed.” Broadcasting is the most efficient means to move common content to very large numbers of eyeballs; broadcasting, by definition, is one-to-many, not one-to-one. But, the traditional business model (advertiser-supported linear programming) is suffering erosion, in part because there just are too many alternatives vying for viewer attention.

NRT (Non-Real-Time) capability is a centerpiece of the emerging “ATSC 2.0” standard, which is generally described as a backwards-compatible package of broadcast services– one way of providing that change in direction. Other elements of ATSC 2.0 include new advanced coding technologies, Internet connectivity, enhanced service guides, audience measurement and conditional access.

What’s NRT all about? Simply put, it involves the delivery of content in advance of consumption, sothatwhen the viewer wants to view the content, it’s already available. When you stop and think about it, with the possible exception of live sports or breaking news, most television programs really don’t need to be delivered in real-time. They can be downloaded overnight, or at some other time, and presented when the viewer wants to see them.

NRT is especially attractive for mobile services, since consumers have clearly demonstrated a desire for on-demand applications. Experience has shown that most mobile viewing is done on an opportunistic basis—the consumer wants to watch something while waiting at the dentist’s office, for example. Because of the generally unpredictable timing of mobile viewing, the concept of “appointment viewing” may not always be practical for mobile television. NRT solves this problem by allowing the consumer to select what they want to see from a menu, with the program or service pre-loaded on their mobile device.

NRT is made possible by the huge increase in the level of sophistication possible today in receiving devices. It’s no secret that prices for hard drives, RAM, microprocessors, and other key components continue to fall while, at the same time, performance improves. Loosely described as “Moore’s Law,” the long history of continually increasing computing power shows no signs of stalling.

Content delivered via NRT can include both “traditional” TV fare (video/audio entertainment programming, news, weather, sports highlights and the like) and information that is not now part of traditional TV fare or that is presented in a customized and non-traditional way. NRT service also can deliver information not aimed at the TV at all –including content targeted to PCs, handheld media players or even commercial platforms).

Typical applications for NRT services include:

•           Push VOD (content ranging from short-form video clips to feature length movies)

•           News, information, and weather services

•           Personalized TV channels

•           Music distribution

•           Reference information on a wide range of topics

Delivery of NRT services allows broadcasters to continue to capitalize on a unique advantage—the delivery of localized content wirelessly to devices. The development of complete end-to-end standards to enable NRT service delivery is expected to be a critical part of the future of broadcasting.

So, with NRT and other aspects of the emerging ATSC 2.0 standard, ATSC members can rewrite that ancient proverb and change the direction of broadcasting in a way that best serves broadcasters and viewers alike.


Dr. Richard Chernock is Chairman of the ATSC’s TG1 Technology Group.  His day job is CTO of long-time ATSC member company, Triveni Digital.