ATSC 3.0: A Cooler Look at the Next-Gen Standard

At the NAB New York Show, broadcast execs praised the next-gen standard but noted concerns

While broadcasters' push for the adoption of ATSC 3.0 continues in full force, proponents’ early zeal for the next-gen broadcast standard seems to have cooled off a bit.

At the NAB Show New York Thursday, some of the country’s biggest broadcast leaders touted the benefits of the IP-based transmission system—better picture quality and mobile viewing, expanded advertising opportunities and improved market penetration among them.

But the panel of station group heads—Sinclair’s David Smith, Fox’s Jack Abernethy, Nexstar’s Perry Sook and Raycom’s Pat LaPlatney—stopped short of calling ATSC 3.0, which the FCC has yet to authorize, a panacea for local broadcasting.

Consumers rejecting a delivery system that requires them to buy new technology is one of the concerns, they said. So is making over-the-air delivery so appealing that it furthers cord-cutting—causing a drop in the retransmission consent money broadcasters get from pay-TV providers as a result.

“We are absolutely concerned about giving away our product for free and undermining our business model,” said Abernethy, president of Fox Television Stations. “We have to be very careful about protecting the dual revenue stream.”

Yet Sinclair CEO Smith, the industry’s leading ATSC 3.0 backer, said local broadcasters don’t have the luxury of being skeptical. The new standard is the industry’s only chance for going head-to-head against the telephone companies in meeting mobile demand from consumers and advertisers, who increasingly want consumer data that only an IP-based system can generate.

“The fact of the matter is you don’t have any choice,” Smith said. “If you want to compete in today’s world… you have not choice but to be in (the mobile) business or go home.”

Sook agreed, saying the industry needs to embrace the standard and the expanded business opportunities it provides. Additionally, it is critical for local broadcasters to offer unmatched viewing experiences to keep viewers coming back for more.

“I don’t think we want to be in a position that the NFL says, ‘Why do our games look so better on ESPN than on the Fox affiliates?’” he said.