Let’s All Do The Two-Step Tower Tango

Here’s the problem. At most, broadcasters have 39 months to complete their move to a new channel assignment if and when the incentive auction is complete.

That’s not much time, especially when certain finite industry resources — most notably the crews qualified to work on tall TV towers — are taken into consideration.

It simply takes time to rig a tower, uninstall a six ton antenna from the top of a tower — worst case scenario — and install a new one. And that’s just the most obvious antenna- and tower-related challenge.

There are many others, including what some call the tower aperture, or size of vacant places on the tower that may or may not be sufficient for the size of the new antenna to be mounted; minimizing the impact on other tenants on the tower; and weather, which must be taken into consideration. Each of these, and many others, contribute to delays the industry can ill afford as the 39-month clock ticks down to zero.

Tango chartTo expedite antenna replacement, many are advocating a two-step tango on TV towers where crews install an auxiliary, broadband side-mount antenna first to keep a station on air. Then later, when the smoke clears from the mad dash to the repack finish line, design, build and install a permanent antenna that replicates as closely as possible today’s coverage contour.

An ex parte notification to the FCC dated July 29 from T-Mobile makes the case.

“Broadcast auxiliary antennas will play an important role in the transition of broadcast television operations following the close of the 600 MHz incentive auction because these antennas bridge the gap between the broadcasters’ current and final channel assignments,” it says.

These antennas “provide added flexibility to both broadcasters and the commission,” the filing says.

“Among other things, broadcasters can prepare for a smooth transition by purchasing broadband auxiliary antennas prior to knowing their final channel assignments because the broadband antenna is not customized for a particular channel, but rather can tune to any one of a wide range of channels as needed depending on the broadcaster’s final channel assignment,” T-Mobile says in the filing.

This type of temporary antenna is attractive for other reasons as well. They are relatively light, simple to install and can be used post-transition as a backup, or — depending on the auxiliary antenna’s pattern — can be removed from the tower and reinstalled elsewhere as part of a single frequency network made possible by the ATSC 3.0, next-generation TV standard.

“Going to a two-step is not going to require a gin pole and will require much lighter rigging equipment,” says Jay Martin, Dielectric VP of sales, adding that the National Association of Tower Erectors is soon expected to release new gin pole requirements that could introduce delays as tower crews strengthen or replace them. (A gin pole typically only comes into play when replacing a top-mount antenna on a tall tower.)

The two-step process also improves the odds of a successful flash cut to new channel assignments, says Bill Harland, VP of marketing at antenna and tower manufacturer Electronics Research Inc.

For a flash cut to work, all stations moving to new channel assignments will have to be ready to go at once. Relying on temporary antennas decreases the likelihood of having to wait for stragglers to finish more complicated, longer installations of top-mount antennas, he says.

However, not everyone is convinced that the two-step tango will play as big of a role in the success of the repack as advocates suggest.

Cindy Hutter Cavell, managing partner at engineering consultancy Cavell, Mertz & Associates, says the approach will simply complicate things further.

“I fail to see how temporary antennas expedite things, because now you’ve added another installation into the mix,” she says. “OK, you now have one or two or six interim antennas on this tower, so you have to strengthen the tower to accommodate them all. So that saves you time how?”

Scott Martin, director of broadcast sales for Radio Frequency Systems, counters, saying that the fact that an auxiliary antenna is broadband means multiple stations could have a way to share the antenna.

The company has redesigned an auxiliary broadband antenna it sells in Australia to do just that in the U.S. market, he says.

“If there is any capacity left on the tower at all, one of the advantages of this antenna is it is capable of service as a transitional antenna for more than one station. You can actually combine multiple stations into it and accommodate the pre- and post-transition channels for up to three stations. That would effectively reduce the tower loading by requiring one antenna as opposed to three.”

There are a couple of other caveats, however, when it comes to the two-step tango.  Both involve FCC rules and regulations, says Dielectric’s Martin.

Broadcasters moving to new channel assignments are entitled to reimbursement of qualified expenses incurred as part of the move from the $1.75 billion congressionally authorized relocation fund. However, there appears to be uncertainty about whether an auxiliary antenna used in a two-step transition is a reimbursable expense.

On the one side are people like ERI’s Harland. “The reimbursement funds are supposed to cover any reasonable expense, and if you need to build an auxiliary facility to build out your repacked facility, I would think that would qualify as a reasonable expense,” he says.

On the other side are those like Dielectric’s Martin, who seek clarity from the FCC on the matter. “In the commission’s mind, anybody who currently has a licensed replacement aux antenna can get reimbursements on a replacement aux antenna,” he says. “However, if you don’t have a licensed aux antenna, which is about 100 stations, it’s subject to other terms and conditions, which have not been defined.”

Dielectric’s Martin has another concern as well that he says the FCC must address.

“Typically you have a finite amount of time to get on air with your full service and fill your full contour. If you do not do that, your contour is no longer protected,” says Martin.

However, side-mount antennas in the vast majority of cases will be unable to replicate a station’s current pattern. “So the commission is going to have to grant a type of special temporary authority or a type of guarantee that your contours will be protected for X amount of time till you get that permanent antenna in place,” he says.

It would appear stations may wish to wait to lace up their shoes until after the FCC has cleared the regulatory dance floor of obstacles and they can two-step tango without any hindrances.

VSF Seeks Presentation Proposals

The Video Services Forum, VSF, will hold its October meeting at Level 3 Communications in Broomfield, Colo., Oct. 4-5.

VSF has issued a call for presentation proposals. Some presentation topics VSF is interested in include: 4K, media transport via packetized networks, case studies, HD-SDI transport issues, JPEG2000 transport, mobile video and others.

Those wishing to present should submit a 100 to 200 word synopsis of their presentation no later than Sept. 1.

To submit a proposal, visit the Video Services Forum website and click on the Call for Presentation ad.


ATSC Knocks It Out Of The Park With 3.0 Video

The Advanced Television Systems Committee has released a video to explain what ATSC 3.0 has to offer.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee has released a video to explain what ATSC 3.0 has to offer.

If you are in the engineering department or in a technology leadership role, such as a CTO or VP of technology, at a station group, the ideas discussed in a new ATSC 3.0 may be old hat to you.

But if you are one of the aforementioned people who works with station or group management, news management and advertising sales management that only has a passing understanding of ATSC 3.0, let me make a simple suggestion.

Recommend, encourage, beg or cajole your management cohort to take out about three minutes to take a look at Watch This Video & See What ATSC 3.0 Has To Offer, which the Advanced Television Systems Committee has posted on its homepage.

It’s not so techie or dense with details that it will have your coworkers looking at their watches 30 seconds in. Nor is it so surface level that it doesn’t communicate important concepts effectively.

Read On

Brand Connections

Imagine Communications Joins LiveIP Project

Imagine Communications has joined the LiveIP project, a collaboration of Belgian public broadcasting company VRT and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), as a tech partner, the company announced today.

The company joins others in the quest to advance adoption of IP-based media solutions and production.

The LiveIP project, driven by the VRT Sandbox incubator program and the EBU, has developed a fully functional IP production studio based on industry standards. It is designed to demonstrate a high level of interoperability and leverage the  benefits of IP to create efficiencies, such as remote production and automation, it said.

WPSU Adds Calrec Audio Summa Console

WPSU facilities manager Kerry Trout sits in front of WPSU's new Calrec Audio Summa console.

Facilities manager Kerry Trout sits in front of WPSU’s new Calrec Audio Summa console.

WPSU, the public broadcaster at Penn State University, has gone live with a new Calrec Audio Summa digital mixing console.

The Summa is the latest link in WPSU’s ongoing drive to upgrade and modernize its broadcasting facility.

WPSU broadcasts the full PBS programming lineup and also produces original programming for internet distribution as well as over the air to central Pennsylvania communities.

WPSU went live in late May with the new Summa console.

More information is available on the Calrec website.

SMPTE Announces Date Changes To Two Courses

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers has announced date changes for upcoming courses on IP networks and routing and switching essentials.

The new date for the SMPTE Introduction to Networks is Sept. 19; the new date for the Routing & Switching Essentials course is Aug. 29.

Details and registration for the IP networking course are available on the SMPTE website.

Details and registration for the Routing & Switching Essentials course are available on the SMPTE website.

KSPS Upgrades To UTAH-400 Series 2 Router

KSPS in Spokane, Wash., has added a new UTAH-400 Series 2 router.

KSPS in Spokane, Wash., has added a new UTAH-400 Series 2 router.

KSPS, the public broadcaster in Spokane, Wash., has upgraded its broadcast operation with a new Utah Scientific UTAH-400 Series 2 router, the company said today.

Besides its three broadcast channels, KSPS operates six educational cable channels and provides master control operations for two other stations. Expected to be fully operational by September, the new UTAH-400 Series 2 router will be the heart of the KSPS operation, switching signals from every video device and for the entire programming lineup.

The new router is a 144 x 144 frame configured for 96 inputs and 72 outputs, with Utah Scientific’s SoftPanel-2 software and UCP-Series panels providing router control.

More information is available on the Utah Scientific website.

Brand Connections

AccuWeather Adds 360-Degree Video

AccuWeather has introduced immersive, interactive 360-degree videos for breaking weather news, which has accounted for a 400% increase in average monthly video views across its digital properties, including web, mobile web, mobile apps, and OTT platforms, the company said today.

The 360-degree videos for severe weather events are the latest addition to AccuWeather’s portfolio of more than 500 original videos each day.

AccuWeather meteorologist Reed Timmer captured an extreme close-up of an EF-2 tornado in Wray, Colo., in 360-degree format. The video quickly went viral in May 2016.

AccuWeather videos can be seen on AccuWeather.com web and mobile sites, as well as on AccuWeather apps, the AppleTV app and AccuWeather Network.

Neville Cumming Joins GatesAir

Neville Cumming joins GatesAir as director of key accounts.

Neville Cumming joins GatesAir as director of key accounts.

Neville Cumming has joined GatesAir as director of key accounts, returning to the operation where he formerly worked as Harris Broadcast Strategic sales manager.

In his new role, Cumming will support U.S. broadcast groups during a period in which OTA will undergo substantial changes, including the spectrum repack and a likely transition to ATSC 3.0, the next generation TV broadcast format.

Cumming will report to Joseph Mack, GatesAir VP of sales, Americas.

More information is available on the GatesAir website.


Gene Sudduth Joins Octopus Newsroom In U.S. Sales Role

Gene Sudduth has joined Octopus Newsroom as national sales director for North America.

Gene Sudduth has joined Octopus Newsroom as national sales director for North America.

Octopus Newsroom has appointed Gene Sudduth as its national sales director for North America, the company announced.

Prior to joining Octopus, Sudduth spent 29 years with Chyron and then later ChyronHego in account management roles. Sudduth will be based in Tyler, Texas, and report to company sales director Gabriel Janko.