With ATSC 2.0, Broadcasting Gets Facelift

Work on new standard could herald radical changes in the industry

As broadcasters struggle to find new ways of growing their relatively stagnant core businesses, the Advanced Television Systems Committee is working on several groundbreaking standards that could have a dramatic impact on both the traditional broadcast business and the way these broadcasters use their spectrum.

The most immediate, major development is ATSC 2.0, which is expected to become a candidate standard sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, with final adoption as a standard in 2012.

The shift would allow broadcasters to deliver a plethora of new services, including nonreal- time content that would permit viewers to access news, weather and other content on demand; new interactive services to enhance live broadcasts; personalized advertising systems for ads targeted to a viewer’s location or interests; the use of MPEG 4 compression systems that would let broadcasters do more with their existing spectrum; advanced programming guides to make it easier to find content; and conditional access that would allow broadcasters to launch subscription or pay-per-view TV services; to name a few of its major features.

The standard move could spell a major change for the traditional broadcast business, which has long focused on linear, free broadcasts.

“In broadcasting we have traditionally done everything in real time, even though most of the programming doesn’t happen in real time,” says Mark Richer, president of the ATSC. “Non-real-time delivery allows broadcasters to provide a whole new array of services, such as constantly updated news stories and so forth. It allows people to get content when and where they want it.”

Another huge plus is that despite the radical changes in the types of services ATSC 2.0 will deliver, the standard is designed to be backwardly compatible, meaning the new capability can be added to existing infrastructure without disrupting current broadcasts. It also includes some features that are part of the mobile digital TV standard and is very much designed to complement ATSC’s work on delivering broadcast content to a wide array of mobile devices.

But the focus of ATSC 2.0 is fixed TV receivers, and a number of its key features will help broadcasters capitalize on the growing popularity of TVs that are connected to the Internet.

For starters, the standard assumes that new television sets that comply with ATSC 2.0 will include some storage, allowing stations to push out content, such as news stories or weather alerts that would be received and stored on the set, for viewers to access the content on demand.

In addition, ATSC 2.0 will enable “triggered downloadable objects.” These act as a kind of widget for viewers to interact with broadcast feeds, providing them with additional information on the players in a game, or even letting them vote on reality shows.

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