Top Station Groups Align Behind Near-Complete Standard

Sinclair, Nexstar get together to support emerging opportunities

Why This Matters

Consortium hopes to jump-start new savings, revenue prospects from ATSC 3.0.

Related: FCC: Comment Window Is Wide Open

ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast transmission standard with the potential to let broadcasters stream their signals directly to mobile devices and add targeted advertising to their product mix, heads into the home stretch of final adoption with renewed support by key broadcast-group backers.

Nexstar Media Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group, which together run 343 television stations reaching 60% of the coun­try, are now joining forces in hopes of leading a consortium to “promote spectrum aggregation, innovation and monetization and enhance their abilities to compete in the wireless data transmission sector.”

The broadcasters hope to accelerate ATSC 3.0’s ushering in of new product offerings that would include creating virtual pay-TV platforms and multicast channels and launching new automotive and wireless-data applications. They will jointly own and control the consortium, but will collaborate on a nonexclusive basis with the intent to include other broadcasters.

The notion that competing broadcasters across markets will need to coordinate in order to deploy ATSC 3.0 has been discussed for a while now. One approach, for example, is that a single station in a market would start transmitting in 3.0 and carry other stations’ 3.0 signals as they light up, while yet another station would carry all the ATSC 1.0 legacy signals until 1.0 is shut off. This is known as the “lighthouse-night­light” approach.

Sinclair and Nexstar have steadily advocated for ATSC 3.0, with Sinclair sinking substantial resources into the development of the standard.

Nexstar chairman, president and CEO Perry A. Sook said joining forces with Sinclair will enable a faster rollout and better use of the standard’s capabilities. ATSC 3.0 transmission turns a broadcaster’s 6-MHz channel into a bit pipe of roughly 24 Megabits per second that can carry anything from a single programming stream with all the 4K, high-dynamic range, multiple language, object-audio bells and whistles, to mul­tiple programming streams and/or data payloads with elastic and manageable capacity for each.

Diving Deep Into User Data

Unlike the current transmission standard, one-dot-oh, ATSC 3.0 will be able to reach broadband-connected de­vices, including smartphones and tablets, which will provide much deeper and more detailed user data than traditional broadcast ratings platforms. Nexstar and Sinclair said they “expect to capture significant and meaningful information relating to consumers’ actual viewing and consumption be­haviors” and said “broadcasters will no longer have to rely on expensive third-party measurement services with small sample sizes and unverified results.”

Advertisers have been adding more targeted approaches to their TV ad spending in recent years, and broadcasters would love to tap into those opportunities—including house­hold-addressable ads carrying a premium price—that have been a growth area for multichannel video programming distributors.

Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley extolled ATSC 3.0’s potential at CES in Las Vegas this past January, saying that in addition to targeted adver­tising the new standard will help “supercharge” broadcasters’ busi­ness by enabling a direct reach into mobile devices, bringing broadcast television into the IP video realm and supporting conditional access that could enable, for example, the creation of a subscription service a la Netflix that rides on the platform.

It paves the way, Ripley said, for a “dramatic” increase in capacity to deliver more content.

Several Standards in One

ATSC 3.0 is referred to as “a” standard, but is actually several standards rolled into one, for flexibility of deployment now and upgrading later on. The FCC has an ac­tive notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow for voluntary deployment of the physical layer portion of the standard. Comments on this NPRM are due May 9, with replies due June 8.

As recently noted by Jerry Whitaker, VP for standards development at the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), ATSC 3.0 has reached a tipping point: more standards have been completed than are in progress. ATSC has been recording the standard-setting progress with a graphic updated monthly at ATSC.org. The most recently updated graphic appears in this article.