ATSC3 is now in its “lighthouse phase” whereby local TV stations must share frequency on just one or two TV stations in a market to host all ATSC 1.0 services to free up other spectrum to introduce ATSC 3.0 services. At some point, the stations acting as “lighthouses” to serve as a common host for a market’s ATSC 1.0 service will also transition to ATSC 3.0 for a complete cutover to the new NextGen TV service, as it is branded in the consumer market.
To get an update on industry activities, I was pleased to welcome Lynn Claudy, SPV Technology at NAB, on a recent Leading Local Insights Podcast. Lynn is exceptionally well-versed in ATSC 3.0 with a leadership role in technology development and market rollout at the NAB and other industry affiliations including ATSC (immediate past chair), and the FCC (Tech Advisory Council).
Lynn and I discuss the winding road for ATSC 3.0, where the industry is advancing and where it needs help, particularly from the FCC. We also preview all the Next Gen sessions, events, and booths at the NAB Show taking place in Las Vegas April 15-19, 2023.
Listen to the podcast here. You can also read an edited transcript below.
Hello, and welcome to BIA’s Leading Local Insights podcast, where we examine the trends, technologies, platforms, and industry activities related to local media trends and revenue.
I’m Rick Ducey, BIA’s managing director. I’m here today with NAB’s Lynn Claudy. Let me tell you a little bit about Lynn, Lynn is Senior Vice President for Technology at the National Association of Broadcasters. He joined NAB in 1988, as a staff engineer and rose to the ranks before assuming his present position in 1995.
Lynn, you’ve got a great background in technology, and had several leadership positions, including working as the immediate past chair of ATSC. You’re on the FCC’s Technology Advisory Council, the Communications, Security, Reliability, Interoperability Council, and SMPTE among other roles. You serve in leadership roles in these different technology organizations, but while you speak engineering, you can also speak business. The other thing I love about your background is that you’ve got a BA degree in music from Oberlin College. What music do you play? What instrument?
I was a flutist in that former life.
Well, that’s good, you know, kind of left-brain, right-brain. Well, thank you so much for being with us here today, Lynn. We want to talk about some of the things that are at the leading edge of ATSC 3, of which you’re very much a part. Since we’re doing this just before the NAB Show, we want some of your advice on what to look out for at the NAB coming up next month in April.
Let’s start with ATSC. What is ATSC? I mean, even in the industry, it’s always interesting to me, like talking to radio people, they often have no idea what ATSC is, or ATSC 3 or NEXTVGEN TV is. It’s a bit curious to be in a business and not really know about what the other side’s doing. But honestly, even within the TV business, like exactly what is ATSC? And what are they up to?
Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on this, this show. I’ve been looking forward to it. I think it’s good to start with a little bit of level setting about ATSC. ATSC is the Advanced Television Systems Committee. It’s been around for almost 40 years. They’re having their 40-year anniversary this year. And it’s the standards development organization that documented the original digital television broadcast standard that’s been in use in the in the US for a couple of decades in some other countries. And more recently, they have developed the ATSC 3.0 set of broadcast standards, and that defines the makeup of what is NEXTGEN TV. NEXTGEN TV is the consumer facing branding for ATSC 3.0 including a logo and the lingo for ATSC 3.0.
The ATSC is mission is really to do two things. They develop technical standards for over-the-air terrestrial broadcasting. And they promote their usage in the industry. And those tend to be separable activities.
The first course is highly technical engineering kind of stuff. And the promotion part is more being an industry educational resource, or a forum for discussion or somewhat of an industry cheerleader for digital television. But everything ATSC does falls in one of those two buckets, either developing standards or promoting standards one way or another.
And to be clear, ATSC creates a voluntary standard. I mean, there’s no force of government behind this. It’s just if the industry wants to build NEXTGEN TV or ATSC 3.0 things, how do they build it? Well, this standard gives a roadmap, kind of a blueprint of how to build things so that they work together. It’s not government enforced. It’s voluntary,
Right and ATSC is, is a membership organization that has 150 or so members in the industry. Everything from broadcasters to consumer TV manufacturers to professional equipment manufacturers. It’s kind of the full broadcast chain all the way to the to the consumer. And you’re right, they develop voluntary standards.
In the case of digital television, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the ATSC digital television standard for broadcasting in the US. But that’s kind of an old model. They are now, as far as ATSC 3.0 goes and the government, the FCC has given permissive authority to use ATSC 3.0, but they don’t require it. And they’re not expected to require it.
There’s been a lot of launches across markets by stations, and I’m not sure what the current number is, maybe two-thirds of the U.S. on a household basis has one or more ATSC 3.0 signals available to them. All very good. But there’s some friction along the way. NAB and some others have encouraged the FCC to set up a task force to help the industry get to the end game more effectively. How is that initiative proceeding?
Well, this is a huge transition for the U.S. population. It’s just like the transition from analog to digital television was. It’s a big change, and it requires a lot of tenuously connected industries. If you really want to have this huge transition go well, it has to be coordinated, hopefully by some central entity. Broadcasting is regulated by the FCC, so they’re the logical choice to do some of that central coordination function. NAB has asked that the FCC form a multi–bureau Task Force for NEXTGEN TV. In other words, this has been kind of the provenance of the Media Bureau so far, and it’s bigger than the Media Bureau.
They have a lot of expertise at the FCC, certainly at the Office of Engineering and Technology, and they’ve been involved. But there are international aspects of this involving the International Bureau and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Public Safety, because they’re alerting, emergency alerting aspects to this. The Wireless Bureau is relevant mainly because they have shown how to run one of these big transitions for a different industry. But 5G is another huge change in the industry. The wireless bureau should be involved. And all this is economics. And you know, those kinds of things. So the office of economics and analytics have been through these kinds of things with the auction process, for instance. There are these mammoth industry transitions, a lot of expertise over at the FCC.
While the industry is collaboratively working together to make a better broadcast system, there’s a role for government here, even if it isn’t mandating things. There is an appetite for doing this in the industry and involving the FCC in this way.
I’d note earlier this week, we held our annual State Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. FCC Commissioner Simington was there. He said on stage that he thought a task force for NEXTGEN TV was, quote, unquote, “a good idea.” There are others out there promoting the idea and we hope those who aren’t promoting it or warming up to it. We’ll see what happens.
Yeah, I mean, it really seems to me that a lot has been accomplished both with individual initiatives and some collaborative initiatives like what ATSC, NAB and other groups like Pearl have been working on. It is getting to a point where it could make sense for the government to up its game a little bit. I’ve been seeing that come up over the last couple of years and certainly more recently, so it was really encouraging to see those comments by Commissioner Simington.
You’re talking about collaboration and cooperation in this initiative to transition to NEXTGEN TV. Indeed, there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of organizations. One of the big challenges is unlike the transition from analog to digital television that the FCC mandated, the ATSC 3.0 is not mandated. Another thing that’s different is there’s no spectrum that broadcasters get like they did for the original transition from analog to digital.
With ATSC 3.0, we’re trying to introduce a much more powerful, more capable service in the same spectrum. And that is being achieved. But there’s still some challenges around. How is that? How is that progressing? We’ve had some successes. But trying to do trying to do it all on the same spectrum seems like a big ask, right?
Well, that’s right. There is no extra spectrum being made available to broadcaster. So basically, you must pull a rabbit out of the hat to make this transition possible. The idea that has taken hold is that you create channels for ATSC 3.0, by taking the ATSC 1.0 programming off of a station and putting that ATSC 1.0 programming on another station in on a channel sharing basis. That’s step one. Then all the broadcasters in the market or many of them can put ATSC 3.0 programming on that now freed up channel that has been designated as an ATSC 3.0 station.
That’s channel sharing via an ATSC 3.0 station or so-called Lighthouse. You want as many broadcasters as you can to participate. But most of the time, given the spectrum occupancy that’s there in a particular market, you can only free up one, or maybe two stations in the market for ATSC 3.0 with this channel sharing thing.
If you have five broadcasters that want to participate, and only one lighthouse in the market, that means each broadcaster only gets access to essentially 20% of the data rate of that channel. And that’s going to be true until we can turn off what I sometimes call POD TV, or Plain Old DTV. This leads to the issue of when you can turn off ATSC 1.0 and not have mass viewer disenfranchisement, and how do you make sure no viewer is left behind. When you can get rid of ATSC 1.0 television, then each station gets their own six MegaHertz channel. Then they can have all the flexibility of ATSC 3.0 and all the data rate that the channel is capable of, for their own station.
The implications of this for the services that are available currently, are that it’s really hard to support things like 4K, Ultra HDTV, for example, because stations are sharing their data capacity, and 4K takes up a lot of data space. While we’re in this so-called Lighthouse Era you have to look at that as being really just a waypoint along the path to the full ATSC 3.0 transition. Although it’s playing out in the public, what we’re in the process of doing right now is developing the platform, as opposed to deploying the full service.
By that I mean, we need to get stations on the air, we need to get television sets in homes. And we need to develop a mass market platform because broadcasting really requires a mass market to work or to work efficiently. Once you have the platform fully in place, then you can do all the investment in program services that are hopefully going to delight consumers and make money for broadcasters and others. But the platform has to be firmly developed first. That being said all NEXTGEN TV stations, even though they don’t have a lot of data capacity from the over the air spectrum, can provide some of the other benefits of NEXTGEN TV like broadcast applications. Limitations on apps are very few because it’s a link to the Internet, which is a relatively unlimited broadband path in many homes. The formula might be apps now and 4K later. Just do the best you can for now with scarce resources and try to innovate like crazy.
That’s definitely the hand that has been dealt or is being dealt to the industry. I want to go back to the notion of the lighthouse, this transitory period.
The platform build out will eventually provide all the benefits that this platform allows, both in the consumer market and the non-consumer market like datacasting, GPS, education, distributing signals to IOT devices in the field and so on. Let’s start first from the consumer perspective.
We’re in the lighthouse period, which means ATSC 3.0 services, NEXTGEN TV as it is branded for consumers has some benefits. As stations start broadcasting NEXTGEN TV services in a market, like where you and I are in Washington, DC market, we have you have ATSC 3.0 there’s some necessary promotion to the consumers on how you can get NEXTGEN TV. They need to be sure they a NEXTGEN TV capable device and might need to rescan their TV or whatever device you’re using.
The NEXTGEN TV experience for consumers, they’re being told there’s some benefits, and here’s what you can expect. But if you’re looking at the ATSC, 1.0 service on your favorite TV station and that station also is on an ATSC 3.0 lighthouse, offering a similar consumer experience, even if you have an ATSC 3.0 TV set. They could do broadcast applications. But that mainly provides a service that they’re used to from ATSC 1.0, is that kind of where we are? Or are there really more things happening that aren’t so widely known yet?
Well, of course, you know, there, there’s all kinds of things happening. The app environment is pretty interesting right now. That’s been kind of a training activity for broadcasters to get their web activity converged with their broadcast activity. Apps are one of the convergence aspects of ATSC 3.0. It’s the broadcast and broadband convergence that is in the not-so-secret sauce. What makes this convergence possible is the commonality of Internet Protocol, which is the backbone of both broadcast and ATSC 3.0 and, of course, broadband is an internet service.
So that means content is really easy to mix and match, regardless of how it gets to the TV, whether it comes by a broadband pipe or broadcast pipe.
Apps specifically can be delivered over the air, or they can be delivered by broadband or WiFi channels. Right now, they’re pretty much delivered over the Internet, because of the return channel in the broadband path. There are scenarios where you could download an app and content over the air and then interact with it locally in the television environment without needing a return channel. In either case, the app is pointed to and invoked by a viewer that’s watching over the air programming.
You’re watching the programming for the station, either you select a small bug in the lower corner of the screen, or you hit a key on the remote and a menu of activities pops up on the screen, typically on the left side or the lower third of the screen or maybe both. That is the content that’s available on the app that’s overlayed now on the programming might be access to the last hours newscast, or it might be weather forecasting, or might be a collection of audio channels or auxiliary information or emergency learning kinds of things or something else. But typically, right now, it is content that is already available on the station’s website, because it’s already been produced for that environment, it’s ready to go for integration with ATSC 3.0 very easily.
That’s why I think apps are perhaps the greatest change that NEXGEN TV will make in viewers’ lives. Right now. Maybe not later, but right now. Making relevant or interesting stuff that essentially comes from the Internet available to people watching television is actually a very transformative notion. It’s transformed not because it’s revolutionary technology. It’s not. But it is revolutionary, contextual convenience. While we say people will be on their laptop while they’re watching television, well, not everybody does that. But for those that do just watch television, and to be able to bring in those web resources in the in the same environment that they’re watching as a, you know, more as a couch potato is that that’s fresh.
One of the things people talk about is the growing importance of ATSC 3.0 as an over-the-air platform since a growing part of the population are adding antennas to their mix of TV services. One of the cool things about this with the IP technology here is I can have an antenna, pulling a signal from my TV set. But then the technology also allows that to be redistributed to any WiFi device for full connectivity. I mean, so that broadcast app, I can have my phone, on my tablet, on my computer, whatever. And I may not get the full benefits of everything like 4 depends upon the limits might explain everything. But once I land that ATSC 3.0 signal in a household, pretty much everything in a household could become an ATSC 3.0 device with the IP backbone and where the broadcast apps are written.
Yeah, you can get to these increasingly complicated and complex things where we have service sharing and retransmission within the home on WiFi, and different kinds of devices that make it more and more convenient for consumers to participate in the NEXTGEN TV experience. You have to look at though, as is kind of a crawl, walk, run path to be able to do that. And most of the effort right now is in let’s get watching TV down, right and solid, and then start branching out in into some of these these other areas. There are certainly people working on that there are products in the wings coming out for a more unified experience in the home that is more agnostic to what delivery path you’re dealing with. Just being able to enjoy the content. But you got to be a little bit guarded about when it’s going to get here and who the pioneers are going to be.
Exactly. You’d mentioned in our FCC taskforce discussion that the notion of 5G. I know some broadcasters and others are working on ATSC 3.0 plus 5G. What does that enable you as you converge those platforms? We are in this wave of TV stations transitioning through lighthouse deployments into ATSC 3.0. Audiences have access to ATSC 3.0 signals with some initial benefits compared to ATSC 1.0. Maybe not 4K or interactivity yet. That’s coming.
As that lighthouse period winds down and goes away, and we’re fully ATSC 3.0 a lot of the things that are in development just gets better and more exciting as that platform gets more capable with more data being allocated to it versus siphoning off some for ATSC 3.0 and then converting it with platforms like 4G 5G or whatever else.
What’s thinking in the industry about goals or of expectations for what happens when with ATSC 3.0? When this lighthouse period is over an industry somehow says, Okay, this date will no longer be doing ATSC 1.0 everything will be ATSC 3.0. When the government mandates it, and you have a deadline, it kind of works, but trying to get industry on its own to do this cutover? Is that, you know, foreseeable or we’re still learning so we don’t really have an end date in mind. Is it 10 years away?
No, it was definitely foreseeable and that is one of the prime reasons the FCC does need to be involved because protection of consumers is what they want to do and what they do best. I think it’s going to be messy no matter what in the transition. Broadcasters want to get through this transition as quickly as possible. I’ve written a number of times about the definition of transition going from one thing to another. It’s not being stuck in two different worlds forever. And the disadvantages are huge for broadcasters because of the lack of spectrum so you want to get to ATSC 3.0 as quickly as possible. The FCC really has to be involved to kind of help define what are the metrics for turning off? DTV?
Can you do it on a voluntary basis on a market-by-market basis? Or is there some public policy that is served by doing it nationwide? basis? For instance? What is the penetration of NEXTGEN TV devices in a market that would make you able to start talking about turning off ATSC 1.0? And what are the cost alternatives for those that haven’t made the transition to getting inexpensive converter boxes to solve tthe last receiver problems?
So those are all the things the industry needs to talk about and come up with, with an answer for. I think it’s metric driven as opposed to just timeline driven. Ten years would be nice for the simulcast period. For DTV it went all the way from 1998, which is really one of the first stations, commercial stations came on the air to 2009 when the analog service for full power stations was turned off. So that’s not you know, that’s not necessarily a role model for ATSC 3.0. The uptake so far seems to be outpacing digital television, the analog to digital conversion, it’s an easier conversion.
Technology wise, because it’s a digital-to-digital conversion going from analog to digital had a lot more challenges associated with it from from everyone concerned. But it does cost the industry, it does cost consumers and there are viewer disenfranchisement issues to talk about.
I think it’s important to state now that that’s the goal. This lighthouse era is not a place you want to live forever, because it will eventually degrade the DTV service. They won’t be able to add a lot of multicasts and have higher data rates for other services because they want to do ATSC 3.0 and the ATSC 3.0 service itself is handicapped by not having full access to the to the channel. It’s kind of the worst of all possible worlds. But it’s a necessary step to get us to where we want to go.
Any industry in a major transition faces these kinds of issues of one flavor or another. Lynn, let me let me end and thank you so much for your time. All your insight and information has been so valuable and informative. We do have the NAB Show coming up. I know that’s keeping us super busy along with a lot of other people and ATSC 3.0 NEXTGEN TV where we’re going to see pop up and programs on the floor and special meetings and so on.
What kind of things should we look out for at the NAB Show coming up with respect to next gen and ATSC 3.0?
Obviously, it’s a major issue for the Show. We announced the program for the Broadcast Engineering and IT Conference. That’s what the NAB Technology Department puts together. I think it’s live on the Show website. There are lots of NEXTGEN TV papers and panels that are going to be of interest to technologists. And that’ll begin on Saturday, the day before the exhibit floor opens.
There are a lot of things that are also happening before the exhibit floor opens the Society of Broadcast Engineers is running a two-day program on NEXTGEN TV on Friday and Saturday before the Show for public broadcasters, the Public Media Venture Group is running a two-day technology summit on Thursday and Friday before the show. A lot of that’s about NEXTGEN TV. So, by the time the exhibit floor opens, there will already have been dozens of hours of conference programming devoted to ATSC 3.0 and when the exhibit floor does open, it’s going to be everywhere.
At this point. The NEXTGEN TV technology, especially on the professional side, has been largely mainstreamed into traditional exhibitors, product offerings and will be in their exhibit booths. Not that there won’t be committed demonstrations as well on the edge of the technology front. But like last year ATSC itself will have a large booth in the West Hall.
There’ll be some of what of a central hub for seeing NEXTGEN TV in action. They’ll have consumer TVs there and other reception equipment as well as technology demonstrations from some of their members. I think something like 13 companies right now are participating in demonstrations at the ATSC booth. And you know ATSC membership will be we’ll be hanging out there. And they also have a number of happy hours at the booth. You can have a very, always have a NEXTGEN beer.
There you go. Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s, I mean, there’s so much in play already. I’m not sure there’s much new to expect. It’s really more. Here’s what we’re doing, you know, with this new technology. But in terms of like, startling news, maybe not so much that it’s just like, here’s the steady progress we’re making. And here’s how we’re using this platform as we’re still building it.
Yeah, I think so. It’s gathering people into the more people into the tenant and moving forward together as opposed to a new revolutionary widget.
Yep. Well, this has been great. Anything else that you want us to know about with respect to ATSC 3.0 and what to look ahead for?
Well, just a little bit on maybe the basic numbers. You alluded to those earlier. Just for people to get a milestone as to where we are, there are 63 markets now in the US that have at least one full power NEXTGEN TV lighthouse. And those markets cover over half the US population. There will be more markets lighting up this year. The industry goal is to reach markets that include 75% of the population in 2023. Right now, in those 63 markets, there’s something over 300 stations that have a NEXTGEN channel on the air.
If you’re in the market for a TV, make sure it’s a NEXTGEN TV. All Sony sets are NEXTGEN TV capable now. Many LG, Samsung, and Hisense models are NEXTGEN. We’re on track, according to forecasts from the Consumer Technology Association to have 50% of all TVs sold to be next gen TV by the end of 2025.
Hopefully we’ll exceed that forecast goal as other manufacturers launch products. So, if anyone’s interested in keeping track of those kinds of statistics, you can go to the website, www.watchnextgentv.com. That keeps an accurate list of the models that are available in the stations that are on the air. The ATSC website, just ATSC.org is also a good source for what’s happening in the latest news on next gen TV and what’s happening with ATSC.
And of course, the NAB Show’s website is www.nabshow.com.
Lynn, thank you so much. To everybody in the audience, thank you so much for joining us today on BIA’s Leading Local Insights podcast. Thank you so much for listening. We look forward to having you join us for our next session.
Check us out www.bia.com. And please check out our free daily newsletter on our website. You also can sign up for events, podcasts, webinars, reports that we’re issuing, and getting to meet and learn more about the things that cool people like light slaughter you’re working on. Thanks, Lynn. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.