ROAD TO ATSC 3.0: Hot in Phoenix – Next Gen TV

Pearl TV Charts Progress with FCC Chairman Pai Visit, Developer Conference

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai visited Phoenix late last month, meeting with broadcasters and consumer electronics companies behind the Phoenix Model Market, the groundbreaking Next Gen TV launchpad that signed “on the air” with its first ATSC 3.0 station just before the NAB Show.

Chairman Pai’s visit coincided with an ATSC 3.0 development conference hosted by Pearl TV in Phoenix for more than 20 companies developing 3.0 technologies.  He was very engaged and enthusiastic to say the least. He noted that Next-Gen TV on the air in Phoenix represents a leap forward, touting via Twitter the “Internet-based broadcast standard that promises major consumer benefits, from local emergency alerts to immersive audio to better accessibility.”

The Phoenix Model Market project is managed by Pearl TV, an alliance of eight broadcast companies that manage some 300 local stations. Broadcasters who belong to Pearl include Cox Media Group, the E.W. Scripps Company, Graham Media Group, Hearst Television Inc., Meredith Local Media Group, Nexstar Media Group, Raycom Media, and TEGNA, Inc.

“Phoenix turns out to be a good choice for a Model Market effort because other broadcasters that aren’t Pearl TV alliance members are willing to join the effort” said Pearl TV Managing Director Anne Schelle.  NBC Universal, Fox Television Group, Univision Communications, Londen Broadcasting and Arizona Public Television are all participating.

“And the addition of Univision Communications was particularly fortuitous because they operate two stations in the Phoenix market. That’s why it was possible for Univision to share their primary ATSC-1 UniMás signal on their Univision channel. This cleared the spectrum required to initiate our first ATSC 3.0 transmission,” she said.

Various markets were considered for the first “model station.” Because many Pearl TV members have stations in Phoenix, and in part because of the high concentration of over-the-air viewers who rely on an antenna for reception, Phoenix was the ideal choice as the testbed, Schelle explained.

The technical implementation with the first station in Phoenix grew out of a test plan developed by a team of engineers from Pearl TV member stations. A comprehensive test case document was developed and used to explain to stakeholders the project’s goals as well as the potential deliverables over an 18-to-24 month period. Specifically, it spells out the testing rationale as well as its focus on the upper level capabilities of ATSC 3.0, including content protection, broadcaster application framework, personalized advertising and innovative uses of content delivery.

“Initially, we weren’t sure that broadcast equipment manufacturers could provide all equipment that would be needed to transmit ATSC 3, particularly with advanced capabilities this early in the standard’s deployment,” said Dave Folsom of Raycom Media. “So, a Request for Information was sent to many potential vendors, and we received over 24 responses.”

A technical group was convened to review the proposals, and four major vendors were selected for the initial testing (a fifth was added later). The use of this equipment is not exclusive, and Pearl TV has since had many other manufacturers step up to provide equipment and expertise.

In parallel, consumer electronics manufacturers jumped onboard. Three leading receiver manufacturers –first LG Electronics, then Samsung and Sony – have since joined the Model Market testing by providing “a large level of support including prototype receivers that are so critical in most of the testing,” according to Folsom.

Frequent updates are planned to educate the entire broadcast industry about how ATSC 3.0 can be effectively deployed on a voluntary basis across the country, Schelle said.