How To Create Your Own Future - Broadcasting & Cable

The season of giving is upon us, and here's my gift of free advice for television broadcasters: Pay more attention to technical standards.

I understand you've invested millions in the DTV rollout and other new gear and are thinking about creating your own industry laboratory. But it's not enough.

Broadcasters must participate in the development of standards. It seems simple and it is. But it requires an ongoing commitment from broadcasting's management.

Consumer-electronics companies are typically run by engineers and consider themselves to be technology companies (which they are). The major broadcast groups, on the other hand, are run by non-engineers and seem to consider their companies to be content companies (which they certainly are).

However, broadcasting has always been a mix of technology and content. And, today, the technology side of the equation is clearly in need of attention as content becomes interactive, available to portable (if not mobile) receivers, and accessible to devices other than a television receiver. While this evolution presents multiple programming opportunities, it requires attention to the technology challenges as well.

This is where the Advanced Television Systems Committee comes into the picture. ATSC creates the open standards used by broadcasters. It created the digital terrestrial standard and is in charge of its evolution.

ATSC is a membership organization, and each member gets one vote. Without broadcaster participation, other industries are certain to define your technology, how it can be used, and whether or not it evolves.

Clearly, it's much better for broadcasters to take control of their future by joining and participating in ATSC. You'll be informed on an on-going basis of relevant discussions and technology implications. You'll gain a fuller understanding of what's happening and why. And, because technology clearly affects business decisions, you'll do a better job of both technology and business planning.

It may appear that I am making a brief for the ATSC. In truth, my goal is to prod the broadcasting industry to get where it needs to be. ATSC can be either friend or foe to broadcasters. It all depends on who is pulling the reins and who is casting the votes.

For better or for worse, ATSC exists. It will go forward whether or not broadcasters participate. What is to me intolerable is the current situation in which only 14 of 170 members of this pivotal standards-setting body represent the U.S. broadcasting industry. Moreover, only seven of 38 companies eligible to vote in its key technology group are broadcasters.

Consider new compression technology such as MPEG-4. It's clearly in your future, will be acted upon at ATSC, and yet few broadcasters are even aware of it. Be assured your counterparts in the consumer-electronics industry are well along in their understanding of its implications for their industry and yours.

Participation in the councils and the verdicts of ATSC is an opportunity that must be seized by those who want to see the future come out right.