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Broadcast Nets Not United Behind ATSC 3.0

The push to develop a new broadcast TV transmission standard that would also serve mobile devices has not yet received the full support of ABC and CBS. Both say it’s too early to commit without knowing all the financial and technical ramifications. Other broadcasters, including Fox and NBC, also seem to be hedging their bets.

ABC and CBS are not on board with efforts to switch broadcasting to ATSC 3.0, a new broadcast standard intended to extend the reach of TV stations beyond the living room to smartphones and other mobile devices, industry sources say — and that’s raising doubts about the prospects for a successful transition to the new technology.

Representatives of the networks would not discuss the reports, but conceded that they are far from committed to developing and rolling out the next-generation standard.

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“There are many questions that still need to be answered and issues that need to be resolved,” said a CBS spokesperson. “Our focus is on continuing to provide reliable, high-quality service for the millions of people who watch CBS every night.”

An ABC spokesperson told TVNewsCheck that ABC is reviewing its degree of support.

Although some ATSC proponents see the two other major broadcast networks, Fox and NBC, as supporters, representatives suggested they too are hedging their bets.

“We're supportive of the work by ATSC to develop a new TV transmission standard, but it's premature to comment further as this is still a work in progress,” said an NBCU spokesperson.

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Said Scott Grogin of Fox: “We are supportive of the concept. There’s a lot of discussion to be had, and we’re going to let the process run its course before we make a decision.”

ATSC 3.0 is currently under development by the U.S.-based Advanced Television Systems Committee, which is hoping to have a recommended standard in place by late 2015 or early 2016 to clear the way for a massive industry transition to begin in the U.S. as soon as 2017.

ATSC 3.0 proponents argue that U.S. broadcasters need to make the switch to remain competitive, because ATSC 3.0 promises to be far superior than the existing standard — ATSC 1.0 — for getting broadcast signals to the smartphones and other mobile devices that consumers are increasingly using to access their programming and other information.

Word that ABC and CBS, two of the TV industry’s largest players, are not on the industry bandwagon raises a cloud over a prospective change that could cost industry and consumers billions of dollars.

“It’s probably fair to say that there are some broadcasters today, including CBS, who wonder what the business plan is and what they can get from a new standard,” said an industry source, who asked not to be identified.

Still, ATSC 3.0 proponents told TVNewsCheck they are encouraged by the support from broadcasters, much of it evident from their direct involvement in the standards-setting work.

ABC and CBS “are not representative of [most] broadcaster[s],” said Mark Aitken, VP of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, an ATSC 3.0 evangelist and proponent of one of the systems competing to be the standard.

“They [ABC and CBS] are content-producing network providers that want business as usual,” Aitken continued, in an email. “There is not a single large broadcaster [group or otherwise] that do[es]not understand that we must transition to a new, more capable standard.”

Said ATSC President Mark Richer: “There’s a very high level of understanding that broadcasting has to transition to a new state-of-the-art technology to survive and prosper.”

Asked specifically whether the lack of an endorsement from ABC or CBS undermines the prospects for a TV industry transition, Richer said: “ABC and CBS are members of ATSC, but I do not know about their business plans or that of any other broadcasters.”

One key group backing ATSC 3.0 is Pearl, a partnership comprising eight major station groups: Gannett, Hearst, Cox, Scripps, Graham Media, Meredith, Raycom and Media General. The partners own TV stations in 43 of the top 50 U.S. markets, according to Pearl’s website.

Anne Schelle, Pearl’s managing director, said the Pearl support is whole-hearted and that most of her time is devoted to ATSC 3.0 matters. “Pearl ... is engaged with several of the elements of the evolving standard.”

Pearl was formed in 2010 primarily to develop and launch mobile DTV, a broadcast service for mobile devices. That effort foundered, in part, because of lack of support from CBS and ABC.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, stopped short of giving the ATSC 3.0 effort a full endorsement. But, he noted that more than 20 association members are "active and engaged" in the effort.

“ATSC 3.0 is an evolution of digital television broadcasting and one that we have encouraged our members to explore fully, including engaging in its development to ensure it meets evolving consumer habits and demands,” Wharton said. “We are active in ATSC and the work on the new standard."

Wharton declined to comment on the degree to which any individual member is supporting the standard.

And there are skeptics among smaller station groups. “We’re not all on board,” said Jim Babb, EVP and COO of TV station group owner Bahakel Communications. “We feel like we’ve just gone through one transition [from analog to DTV].”


Comments (9) -

Trip Ericson posted over 3 years ago
Is there even an ATSC 3.0 standard at this point to support or not? I can imagine not wanting to jump on board supporting something that doesn't exist yet.
BroadbandisBest Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Again, no broadcast leadership on a critical technology update. Also not clear that broadcast networks have the best interests of broadcast stations at heart; stations tend to blindly follow their networks. If this were the cable industry, Comcast and maybe one or two others of their “competitors” would drive the standard and the balance of the cable industry would “gladly” follow along. It amazes me that broadcasters think that they just went through a change of standard. That standard was set in 1996, almost 20 years ago. The fact that they only just converted 5 years ago is their fault. Technology moves much more rapidly today than it did 20 years ago. If you are not improving your technology, you are falling behind. I can get 4K today via the web but not via broadcasting. I can get mobile video on my phone but not from broadcast stations. Why is there a Technology Lab if it is not going to push to test systems and push to a standard? We need Dick Wiley to step up to the plate and club the broadcasters about the head and neck to get them to push through a new and improved standard.
EricPost Nickname posted over 3 years ago
The USA cannot wait. We are using technology from the 90s, that's more than 20 years old. Get up with the times.
scv91355 Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Times have changed. Are there really any Broadcast Engineers remaining at the networks? ATSC's Mark Richer and his merry band are now dinosaurs (albeit, very talented dinosaurs) who are finding it impossible to ignore the current dynamic in Broadcast/Terrestrial Television. But wait, business plans? Why should ATSC be involved? It's a technical organization! Like MPEG, ATSC is supposed to be leaving those issues at the front door. However, in the last number of years, those organizations are finding it impossible to ignore the business issues of a now deeply divided industry, now missing great technical leadership. Station Groups like Sinclair have actually not helped. Agendas like combining ATSC 3.0 with LTE, which may have merit, are primarily business driven issues. IMHO, this may be a rare opportunity to combine United States and other countries technical leadership to develop as close to world's standard as possible. Someone needs to lead this parade....
ssman Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Roger O. Thornhill Nickname posted over 3 years ago
There is a lot at stake here including some lucrative licensing agreements for whoever has the winning design(s). Of course, Sinclair which owns Acrodyne, an exciter manufacturer/rebuilder, would really stand to benefit if theirs proved to be the winning technology. But more than that, the broadcasting industry really wants to make sure we're getting the best standard possible. I think we all realize that this is our last chance to get it right. Hence the need for caution. We need an architecture that is extensible, robust and can easily adapt to changing technology and media consumption habits. Plus there is the question of how to get consumers to migrate over to 3.0. The ATSC has said that they hope to have a 3.0 standard published by the forth quarter of 2016. But everyone agrees we need to change 1.0; and 2.0, although being backward compatible, doesn't go far enough in terms of future-proofing broadcast television.
FlashFlood Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Cable will probably go ATSC 3.0 before broadcast will.
Insider Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Considering cable does not use ATSC 2.0......
Robert Miller posted over 3 years ago
Back in the day, 2000/2001, I was and advocate for COFDM/DVB-T when the then FCC Chaiman Kennard came to New York to give a talk about the proposed 8-VSB standard and how good it was. After, in Q&A I asked the question; "Chaiman Kennard we will have to switch from 8-VSB to a COFDM based modulation because 8-VSB is garbage, don't you think it would be better to start with COFDM istead of failing with 8-VSB first?". Everyone laughed. Winston Churchill had it right when he said that Americans could be counted on to do the right thing after they had tried everything else. It is just a wonder how long we can go on doing the wrong thing first. There was so much obvious corruption and fraud involved in the choice of 8-VSB it was painful to be educated in the workings of Congress and the FCC with this being the subject at the time.

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