Next-Generation TV: What’s Next?

Next-generation TV (aka ATSC 3.0) got top billing at the recently concluded U.S. National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event and for good reason.

The need for broadcasters to adopt a next-gen system—especially one that incorporates a blending of terrestrial broadcast and IP—is obvious especially since everything “television” (more and more an amorphous term) is getting the IP treatment from prep and production to distribution.

Not all broadcast luminaries agree on how the two systems should be harmonized. The ATSC approach is to prepare content for eventual IP distribution at the core of the system. The DVB Project advocates a hybrid system that pairs the current DVB-T2 standard with the HbbTV standard in a harmonized user interface. No matter how the magic hybrid sauce is made, everyone agrees, that broadcast and IP need to get together. Fast.

German broadcasters recently began the transition from DVB-T to T-2, and transmitter network operator Media Broadcast is launching a HbbTV service with the new HD DVB-T2 transmissions. Their approach combines an OTT service with linear broadcasts in a unified user interface.

South Korean broadcaster Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) recently turned on its transmission of the world’s first commercial ATSC 3.0 broadcasts in preparation for airing the 2018 Winter Olympics in UHD. That system, however, will be capable of doing much more than just transmitting the prettiest of TV pictures. How much of that capability will be commercialized remains to be seen, though.

Next up are U.S. broadcasters in the U.S.’s messy, fragmented broadcast market. And how broadcasters choose to implement their next-generation TV networks won’t be uniform. The flexibility of the system allows broadcasters to implement more applications and business models than what is currently available to them. Some like Sinclair and Nexstar will likely be the first to roll it out. It seems reasonable that some of their stations moving to new channels in the post-TV spectrum-auction repack party might be the first movers to the next-generation system.

Because, in part, the broadcast industry put its shoulder to updating the out-of-date ATSC standard on an accelerated time table (3.0 standards are expected to be finalized this year), TV stations moving to new channel assignments and buying new transmission equipment can elect to buy “ATSC 3.0-ready” equipment when building out new transmission systems. FCC reimbursement won’t include paying for the ATSC 3.0-ready part of the bill, but broadcasters appear to be willing to reach into their own pockets to pay the premium that sets them on that migration path.

How soon those broadcasters do the rest of the considerable work necessary to transition to a new standard is unclear. Some will be in no hurry to turn their stations from ATSC 3.0-ready to the real thing. Those who have dominant positions to build out Single Frequency Networks (SFNs) in select markets and are ready to implement new business models probably won’t wait long. Without a formal nationwide and government-mandated transition to a new system, everyone gets to pick their time—or stay with the status quo. It’s guaranteed to be a mixed bag. Stay tuned.