LPTV Group Objects To ‘Patronage Politics’

The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, the Washington, D.C. based lobby representing more than 900 LPTV and translator licensees and CP holders, expressed its displeasure with yesterday’s House subcommittee hearing on the LPTV & Translator Preservation Act of 2014.

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Mike Gravino, who heads the groups’ effort to protect the interest of members during the unfolding FCC spectrum auction and repack, says he was excluded from testifying during the hearing “because we represent the part of the low-power television industry that is working with the FCC.”

Gravino, who has a long history in the LPTV industry as an investor, general manager and network developer, objects to what he describes as “political patronage” by full-power television forces to shape the LPTV bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Barton’s bill as written actually puts the future of LPTV stations in greater jeopardy than the low-power industry faces without it, he says.

The only thing Gravino wants is for the Government Accountability Office to conduct an audit of the economic impact on LPTV stations of the Spectrum Act authorizing the FCC to conduct the auction and repack TV spectrum, he says.

Read Gravino’s comments released last night following the hearing.



NewTek Names Andrew Cross President

Andrew Cross, chief technology officer at NewTek since 2010, today was named president of the San Antonio, Texas, based company.

Andrew Cross

NewTek, developer of TriCaster, 3Play and other video production products, has named Andrew Cross as its new president.

Cross, the engineer responsible for development of NewTek’s TriCaster multi-camera live production system and 3Play instant replay system, will be responsible for setting the overall strategy for the company’s video business. He also will retain his current title and duties.

He will report to NewTek CEO Jim Plant.

Cross joined NewTek in 1998 as a senior software engineer.

Read the press release.

Price, Lack of Knowledge Plague Consumer 4K Acceptance, finds TDG

If TV set manufacturers thought 4K Ultra-HD televisions would return them to the early glory days of HDTV when retail prices were high, demand was growing and low-ball challengers weren’t around to threaten their business plans, they might want to think again.

New research from The Diffusion Group, TDG, appears to confirm a couple of important findings from last month’s NPD DisplaySearch look at 4K television.4K pricing

First, consumers are resistant to pay the kind of prices charged -even on the lower end of the scale- for 4K Ultra-HD televisions. TDG found only 6% of adult broadband users –the people surveyed by the research group- said they were moderately or highly likely to purchase a 4K Ultra-HD TV priced at $1,499.

Michael Greeson, president of TDG, says that by two-to-one the main reason respondents said they weren’t likely to buy a new Ultra-HD TV set is price.

TDG also found that a general lack of knowledge about the benefits of 4K isn’t helping. Eighty percent of respondents said they had never heard of,or were not familiar with 4K Ultra-HD.

Set makers continue to search for the next big thing, the killer app that will ignite demand for the next generation of television. James Cameron’s Avatar and the tsunami of 3D TV developments that followed weren’t enough to do the trick. The jury is still out on whether 4K’s four-times the resolution of HDTV will be enough to move the needle on the consumer demand dial.

But if 4K Ultra HD television is to have a shot, there’s lots of work to be done on educating consumers about why it’s special and getting prices in line with what buyers are willing to pay.

WideOrbit Acquires Admeta

WideOrbit announced this morning the acquisition of Admeta, a Swedish company specializing in private ad exchange solutions for online publishers in Europe.

Admeta holds patents on technology deployed by clients in more than 20 European counties that helps publishers and advertisers increase revenue.

WideOrbit logoAdmeta’s core technology includes Artificial Intelligence-based learning, dynamic floor pricing, full premium programmatic support for private marketplaces and Deal ID.

WideOrbit, which provides ad management software for media companies, will use Admeta’s optimization technology for broadcast and digital platforms.

Financial details of the acquisition were not immediately available.

Read the full press release.

NPD DisplaySearch Study Underscores Urgency Of Next-Gen TV Standards Work

A few nuggets of information revealed as part of a study last month by NPD DisplaySearch may shed a bit more light on the urgency with which the Advanced Television Systems Committee, TV broadcasters, NAB and others interested in the future of television broadcasting are proceeding on a next-generation standard for TV.

The findings come from the researcher’s 2014 Global TV Replacement Study, an in-depth examination of TV replacement trends in more than a dozen countries, including the United States. The study looks at things like why people replace their televisions, the type of replacement set they plan to purchase and the impact of various features on their decisions.

Average Age of TVs in Household Inventory New

Source: NPD DisplaySearch Global TV Replacement Study.

One of the key findings reveals the average age of televisions in U.S. households in 2014 was a little more than five years old, about the same age as in the previous two years. Another is the average TV replacement cycle in mature markets, such as the United States, is eight years.

Based on those two findings, it seems reasonable to conclude that on average U.S. households will give their existing TVs about three more years before they begin feeling the urge to replace them with something new.

Perhaps most importantly, the study finds that the top two factors driving replacement in mature markets are picture quality and sound quality.

Wrap those three findings together and it appears many U.S. households should be receptive to replacing their existing sets with 4K Ultra-HD versions, presumably the heir apparent to conventional 720p, 1080i and 1080p HDTV, within a few short years.

While the work on ATSC 3.0 and how it supports reception of mobile TV has received a lot of attention lately, the NPD DisplaySearch study suggests ATSC’s ongoing work related to support for 4K Ultra-HD is every bit as important to the future of television in the United States.

One red flag, however, is the impact of pricing on what motivates a consumer to decide to replace a TV. The study reveals that “the price of TVs becoming more affordable” ranked nearly as high as “sound quality,” the No. 2 motivator, on the list of top factors driving replacement decisions in mature markets.

That makes it critical for everyone pinning their hopes on a 4K future to find a way to educate consumers about how 4K Ultra-HD improves picture quality if it is to succeed in moving consumers to pull the trigger on a replacement based on a better picture, says Riddhi Patel, research director of consumer insights at NPD DisplaySearch.

Perhaps TV station groups, television networks and individual stations will find a more effective way to educate consumers about the benefits of 4K Ultra-HD –if it ultimately is a part of their future– than they did in informing the public about the improved picture and sound quality of digital HDTV over NTSC.

Severe Weather Reporting Odds And Ends

Before moving on from last week’s coverage of developments in the technology used to identify and report on severe weather, a few remaining odds and ends in my reporter’s notebook deserve some attention.

They include:

  • KCCI-TV, the Hearst Television station in Des Moines, Iowa, has on at least three occasions picked up the presence of severe weather before the National Weather Service. The station, which is one of a small number of U.S. TV stations with its own Baron Services dual-pol radar, gets fresh weather data every minute, rather than every 150 seconds as is provided by the National Weather Service. Station chief meteorologist John McLaughlin says those minute-by-minute updates can make a big difference in warning viewers during severe weather events when every second counts.
Viz Weather Template Graphic

Viz Weather templates can be filled automatically with weather data to help stations report weather conditions when no meteorologist is on duty at the station.

  • Vizrt, which has found success with its Viz Weather system internationally, has spent the last year building greater visibility in the United States, says David Jorba, senior vice president of operations at Vizrt.To make its weather product more appealing to local broadcasters, Vizrt has fully integrated Viz Weather into Avid iNews, ENPS and Dalet News Suite, making weather data available to journalists and making weather templates available to news producers and on-air talent that can be filled automatically with weather data, such as current conditions, when a station’s meteorologists are not on duty.
  • AccuWeather has added the ability to integrate Facebook , Twitter, Google+, Instagram and other social media postings into its StoryTeller Social Media App. The idea is a station can gather, sort and use viewer comments and images on its StoryTeller interactive touchscreen, making it possible to supplement a look at severe weather around the metro with content from viewers at specific locations.
  • WSI-Weather Central has recently added Storm Surge to its lineup severe weather prediction tools. For tropical and coastal regions, the product provides contours on a map to show where flooding will occur from the storm surge of a hurricane.

Weather Call: It’s All About The Polygon

Some 90 local television stations around the country are backing up their on-air weather presence during severe weather conditions with robotic calls sent automatically to viewers who sign up for the service and pay the service provider a $10 annual subscription fee.

The company providing the service is Weather Call, a Parker, Colo.-based severe weather warning service.

Weather Call Polygon

Weather Call alerts only the subscribers in a polygon defined by the National Weather Service’s longitude and latitude coordinates for a severe weather event.

Weather Call alerts subscribers with telephone calls to their specific location, in the case of a smartphone, or address, in the case of a landline, when the National Weather Service issues warnings of severe weather threatening their location.

For stations affiliated with Weather Call, the robotic phone call warnings are delivered in the voice of the television station’s chief meteorologist or other designated on-air talent.

What Weather Call offers to TV stations is a means to better serve their viewers by delivering warnings even when severe thunderstorms, tornados, hail or other threatening condition has knocked out power to the viewer’s home, shutting off the TV, says company president Valerie Ritterbusch.

The April 27, 2011, outbreak of tornados in Alabama offers a good example, she says. “In Huntsville there were 8,000 subscribers, and out of the Huntsville National Weather Service office there were 92 individual tornado warnings issued that day,” says Ritterbusch.

Even though there were massive power outages and people could not watch local TV, including Weather Call affiliate WAAY-TV, the company made 234,000 robotic calls to warn subscribers of each tornado threatening their locations. “What was left was landlines underground that don’t require power. The NOAA weather radio transmitter was knocked down. People couldn’t watch TV. We were the last notification left standing,” she says.

But in the age of hundreds, if not thousands of free weather apps, isn’t Weather Call destined to become passe? Not in the least, says Ritterbusch, because the company delivers National Weather Service warnings to only the subscribers living in the affected area.

Ritterbusch says that when the National Weather Service moved away from making countywide warnings to issuing warnings for the precise latitude and longitude readings of areas in the path of destructive weather, Weather Call began using the polygon defined by those coordinates to target warnings to affected subscribers.

Free alternatives, however, continue to issue alerts based on the counties affected, meaning false alarms for many people receiving those warnings, she says. For example, the April 28-29, 2014, outbreak of tornados in North Alabama resulted in one Weather Call subscriber receiving 27 warnings of weather that did not threaten her precise location, but not one from Weather Call, says Ritterbusch.

Why? “Because she wasn’t in the polygon,” says Ritterbusch.

DVB Keeps ATSC Informed On New UHDTV Spec, Says Siebert

The Digital Video Broadcasting, DVB, consortium announced July 3 approval of the DVB-UHDTV Phase 1 specification.

The specification includes an HEVC Profile for DVB broadcasting that are consistent with what is necessary to deliver UHDTV, DVB says.

The move raises an important question for U.S. broadcasters as work on this side of the Atlantic proceeds on development of ATSC 3.0 as a next-generation TV broadcast standard. Specifically, since DVB submitted one of the many proposals for the physical layer of ATSC 3.0 months ago, has the consortium amended its original proposal to reflect the new specification?

Peter Siebert1 (1)

Peter Siebert, executive director of the DVB, says the ongoing work on the ATSC 3.0 physical layer has slowed progress by the Future of Broadcast Television on a worldwide digital TV standard.

I spoke with Peter Siebert, executive director of DVB, on the telephone to find out. Our conversation grew to cover several other topics, including how the physical layer expertise being devoted to ATSC 3.0 is impacting the work of Future of Broadcast Television worldwide digital TV standard, spectrum give backs around the world and a proposal for cooperation between TV broadcasters and wireless companies on the delivery of video to mobile devices.

DVB was one of several to submit proposals to ATSC for physical layer of 3.0. Has DVB amended its proposal to reflect the new DVB-UHDTV specification?

Let me first say something about the relevance of what we have just done.

The importance of our specification for the industry is that it defines exactly what needs to be implemented in receivers and indirectly gives broadcasters information about what they have to do in their studios.

From the many, many options the MPEG standard has, we defined a subset, and this subset needs to be supported by the broadcast industry. That is the relevance of what we are doing.

Of course, we are doing it for all of the countries and all of the areas where DVB standards are being followed, which is a good part of the world. It goes of course beyond terrestrial and applies to satellite and cable.

It is important, and since it is important we have liaison exchange between DVB and ATSC, so we have kept ATSC in the loop about what we are doing. We also at a very early point in time gave some early drafts and of course we also informed them about the latest status of the document.

So ATSC is informed and now it is up to ATSC to also follow the same proposals we have done in our specification and to also put it into the ATSC suite of theorem, but of course, they can also decide differently. That is up to them.

What has happened with the effort to advance a worldwide digital broadcast standard?

I think the progress on the worldwide broadcast standard has been a little delayed over the last year and this is because the experts who are working on physical layer technology have been involved with ATSC 3.0.

So I think when FoBTV (the Future of Broadcast Television) extends a request for proposal the technologies would not be that much different from what ATSC 3.0 has been investigating. So I think a good strategy for a worldwide standard is to wait until ATSC 3.0 is finalized and then to evaluate whether ATSC 3.0 could be the base of such a worldwide standard.

Here in the United States broadcasters are facing demands for their spectrum and a repack. Are broadcasters in DVB countries facing similar pressures from their governments?

Unfortunately, the pressure on the frequency for terrestrial television are the same everywhere. Here in Europe and other countries there is a very high demand for terrestrial spectrum, and I am afraid that a similar situation as in the U.S. will be seen all around the world.

Are broadcasters around the world in any better positioned to protect their spectrum, or will they be forced to relinquish spectrum?

I think you really have to look at this on a country-by-country basis. There are countries, like Spain, where the major distribution scheme is transmission.  In the case of Spain that means 70% of the households receive terrestrial television.

Of course, there is such a big part of the population that is relying on terrestrial television that you cannot take away too much of the spectrum because it would cause a public outcry.

So, we have some countries in Europe that have a very high terrestrial coverage, such as Spain –the highest- France, the U.K., Italy and Greece, and then you have all kinds of variance about how relevant terrestrial is.

But in general, I think in Europe we have the results of the last two radio conferences, and I don’t think it will go beyond where we are today.

We have lost the 800MHz band for terrestrial television. It looks like we will also lose 700MHz, but I hope the rest can be safe for broadcast.

In the United States, Mark Aitken of the Sinclair Broadcast Group made a proposal a couple of years ago calling for development of a broadcast overlay network, essentially a cooperation with wireless companies that would allow them to offload heavy video traffic for delivery to mobile devices via terrestrial television transmission. I believe that concept may have originated at a German university. Has it gained any traction in Europe?

Yes, the proposal originated at the University of Braunschweig, basically coming from Professor Ulrich Reimers, (former) chairman of the technical module of DVB, and this proposal basically goes to a type of cooperation between a high-tower, high-power network, which is typically a broadcast scenario, in combination with a low-tower, low-power network, which is a cellular network. The special relevance of the proposal is for mobile reception because it is relatively difficult to achieve good coverage for mobile reception with a broadcast network.

But the combination, the broadcast network along with the cellular network, could bring advantages to both sides.

So, the idea makes a lot of sense from a technical point of view, but for the time being I have not seen many concrete steps in the direction of implementing this idea in Europe.

IP Tower-Cam Transport Opens Up New Revenue Opportunities For Stations

(A note to readers: Sometimes when reporting on a story, other interesting stories pop up that are related to, but don’t quite fit in with the theme of the original story. Such is the case with this week’s Thursday technology feature on dual-polarization Doppler radar. Several important weather-related stories revealed themselves while reporting on dual-pol radar that were not quite on target for that story. I will cover them in the Playout blog over the next few days. – PK)

For years, tower cameras have been a fixture on television –particularly during weathercasts, but an ongoing transition in the type of link used to transport video and control commands is helping to create new revenue streams for stations.

IP transport of tower-cam video and control signals is turning the capital investment in the technology into a financial winner for some stations.

IP transport of tower-cam video and control signals is turning the capital investment in the technology into a financial winner for some stations.

The adoption of IP transport as an alternative to more expensive microwave links is having a profound effect on the tower-cam business, says Donna Ehart, chief operating officer of Weather Metrics, an HD tower-cam vendor in Overland Park, Kan.

Lower costs mean stations are finding it possible to deploy multiple remotely controlled tower-cams throughout their DMA, but not for the reason one might think, she says.

Rather than making it more affordable for stations to buy, IP camera transport is making it more affordable for local sponsors to buy sponsorships and thus support the cameras.

By relying on Internet drops that already exist at commercial buildings, sponsorship prices can be so low that some businesses may choose to sponsor an entire multi-camera network rather than a single eye in the sky, says Ehart.

Weather Metrics, which actually will assist stations in selling sponsorships to local businesses, has found this approach to be so popular among stations that 75% of the systems it’s sold to broadcasters over the past two years have been sponsored, she says.

IP transport as an enabling technology could not have come along at a better time. Since the 2007-08 recession, stations have been reluctant to devote their capital budgets to anything but the most essential technology, says Ehart.

Stations and Weather Metrics are sidestepping thorny capital budget decisions thanks to a sponsorship model that points a clear path to ROI. Some stations have seen a four- to 10-times return on their investment in a weather camera network resulting from sponsorship sales, says Ehart.

Sponsorship opportunities extend well beyond the actual presentation of tower-cam images on-air. TV stations also are adding Weather Metrics’ weather station — a coffee-can-sized weather instrument that measures wind speed, wind direction, temperature, rainfall, humidity and barometric pressure — to camera sites.

Stations looking to increase revenue can sell sponsorships against the readings provided by these weather instruments, she says.

Another revenue source is selling tower-cam weather video and weather readings to businesses, such as amusement parks, so that they can stream the content on their own websites, Ehart adds.

Rascular to Show Helm, a Control Panel for Broadcast Operations, at IBC

Rascular, a specialist in PC-based control and media management applications for broadcasters, will show its flagship product, Helm, at IBC in September.

Helm allows users to pick branding devices, routers, servers, VTRs, multiviewers and modular gear from a wide range of manufacturers for control with a single, integrated and customizable control screen for a range of broadcast applications.Device control refined

Helm now supports Grass Valley’s Densite modular products, giving fast access to card functions. Alongside numerous back-end upgrades, Helm can also control Black Magic Videohubs, Grass Valley native protocol routers and Sierra Video’s Aspen router range.

Also to be show is RouteMaster, a PC-based router control system built on software modules. RouteMaster can be used with a range of video and audio routers — past, present and future — from all the major manufacturers. It’s also suitable for new router installations or extending the capabilities of existing systems.

Using RouteMaster Web Panels, operators can control routers from computers, tablets and mobile phones. Web Panels can be customized for appearance and function using a drag-and drop designer. Use of the latest HTML5 and Javascript standards allows panels to work with all major browsers on all major platforms.

It now includes support for hardware control panels from Blackmagic, Nevion and Sierra. Router support has also been increased to include Black Magic Videohub, Grass Valley native protocol and Sierra Video Aspen. It’s also now possible to select router groups from web panels. RouteMaster can also handle router stacking, combining multiple independent routers to form a single, multilayer router.