The ATSC Looks To A New Steward To Navigate NEXTGEN TV

When the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) began its search for a new president this year, after two decades of steady leadership by Mark Richer - who oversaw the country’s transition from analog to digital and then to HDTV - it knew it wanted a technically savvy person who could bring fresh ideas. After considering “a sea of highly qualified applicants,” the standards development organization chose Madeleine Noland as its new president, effective May 15, 2019.

What they found in Noland is a forward-looking thinker who is keenly optimistic about the future of over-the-air broadcasting yet understands the challenges that lie ahead for U.S. broadcasters and those around the world.

Credited on three U.S. patents for television technology, Noland is a member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers - Broadcast Technology Society.  Prior to becoming ATSC president, she served as senior technology and standards advisor for LG Electronics where her primary responsibility was to represent LG Electronics in ATSC 3.0 development

Prior to being named its president, Noland chaired the ATSC technology group that shepherded the ATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast standard. Previously, she has chaired various ATSC 3.0-related specialist groups, ad hoc groups and implementation teams since 2012. In 2016, she received the ATSC’s highest technical honor, the Bernard J. Lechner Outstanding Contributor Award.

Madeleine Noland predicts ATSC 3.0 will reach its stride in 2021.

Madeleine Noland predicts ATSC 3.0 will reach its stride in 2021.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, the multi-faceted (and highly decorated) engineer is also a talented wind synth and keyboard player in a local band called “Brave Pursuit.”

In an email exchange, Noland spoke to about her vision for “NEXTGEN TV” (aka, ATSC 3.0), how she sees the future shaping up for the ATSC 3.0 standard, and how broadcasters must work together to get the IP-based broadcasting standard - which promises resolutions up to Ultra HD 4K TV, high dynamic range, refresh rates up to 120Hz and better reception at home as well as on mobile devices - off the ground. You’ve been in the ATSC job for nine months. What are some of the things you’d like to see the ATSC do within the industry that it hasn’t up to now. How will your time as President be different than your predecessor’s?

Madeleine Noland: It’s quite an honor to follow Mark Richer as President of ATSC, because he managed the association so effectively for so long. The broadcasting industry, under Mark’s tenure, developed the world’s most advanced Internet Protocol system for terrestrial broadcasting – and he even coined the term “ATSC 3.0,” so that people would understand that it was a natural extension of what ATSC created more than 25 years ago with the current broadcast system.

Regardless of who’s at the helm, ATSC must adapt as the marketplace for broadcasting inevitably changes over time. Mark had the foresight to begin work on ATSC 3.0 over ten years ago, correctly anticipating that the broadcasting industry would need a new system to address the new business trends of today. At the same time, he successfully saw the deployment of ATSC 1.0 all the way through the official shut-off of the analog system.

As with the time that Mark led ATSC, the coming decades will present new challenges and opportunities. We will need to support ATSC 1.0 during a sustained simulcast period, we will need to nurture the commercial rollout of ATSC 3.0 from South Korea to the U.S. to other countries that are considering launching a Next Gen broadcast system. And we will also need the clarity of mind to prepare for the future of broadcasting, so that standards are ready when the industry needs them.

In short, it’s a different world of broadcasting now, and I can only hope to navigate today’s challenges as well as Mark did.

LG electronics, Samsung and Sony all showed ATSC 3.0 electronics built inside their most advanced TV sets at CES 2020.

LG electronics, Samsung and Sony all showed ATSC 3.0 electronics built inside their most advanced TV sets at CES 2020. You spent six years representing LG Electronics (in the CTO’s office) in ATSC. How will this help you in your role as ATSC President?

Noland: I was honored to have played a role in the development of ATSC 3.0 during my time as a consultant to LG Electronics. I think I bring to this job of ATSC President the unique perspective of a consumer technology company, and I understand the pressures that our members in this industry are under.

For example, ATSC formed Planning Team 7 on Service Roadmap Evolution (PT7) to identify which features of ATSC 3.0 are likely to be deployed over the coming years. PT7’s output can help prioritize efforts throughout the ecosystem, ensuring that the right features are being developed at the right time in concert with the intentions of broadcasters. Additionally, while TV sets get better and better each year, there’s tremendous pressure to constantly watch cost. That’s because the consumer expects a better experience at less cost. 2020 is being promoted as “The Year Of Next Gen TV?” Why?

Noland: South Korea commercially launched ATSC 3.0 in 2017, but one could say that this is the “Year of NEXTGEN TV” in the U.S. As we tallied up the number of TV models from LG ElectronicsSamsung, and Sony when they made their CES announcements, we discovered that these three manufacturers alone are bringing 20 models of NEXTGEN TV to the U.S. market in 2020. And so “20 in 2020” has a nice ring to it! But of course that’s the “chicken” to the “egg.” We’re also working with major broadcasters who are focused on bringing on-the-air signals in the Top 40 Nielsen markets and also other smaller markets. There are about a dozen stations on-the-air with NEXTGEN TV powered by ATSC 3.0 today. And that number will rise dramatically as carriage agreements are hammered out and as local broadcasters begin collaborating to launch voluntary ATSC 3.0 signals.

That’s one big difference from the previous transition - broadcasters must work together to make this happen. While South Korea had a government mandate and extra spectrum for their transition, in the U.S. no one is loaning an additional 6Mhz channel. There is no coupon program from the federal government. If this is going to work, we must work together to make it happen. And I believe we are doing that. Next Gen TV has been a hard sell to the consumer, who is confused by the plethora of OTT services that offer 4K content today. How can you (as the ATSC) help solve the challenge of getting consumers to buy a new compatible TV?

Noland: I would argue that NEXTGEN TV hasn’t really yet been seen by the consumer. As of today, there are no consumer receivers on the market – only a few prototypes and a professional USB receiver that is really designed for use by broadcasters. Consumers always gravitate to better quality and and/or more choice, which is exactly what ATSC 3.0 will deliver. The first consumer products are advanced displays with integrated electronics. Assuming that broadcasters keep deploying signals that consumers can watch, I would expect more models to be introduced in 2021 as ATSC 3.0 reaches its stride.

The Consumer Technology Association developed the go-to market name and logo for NEXTGEN TV, helping consumers identify devices that meet ATSC 3.0 interoperability test specifications.

The Consumer Technology Association developed the go-to market name and logo for NEXTGEN TV, helping consumers identify devices that meet ATSC 3.0 interoperability test specifications. At CES this year LG, Samsung and Sony all announced new 4K models with the capability to receive the new Next Gen TV signals. Will this be via some type of external hardware device (USB dongle?) or is there a chip built inside?

Noland: There will be multiple ways to receive NEXTGEN TV that is powered by ATSC 3.0. First products will be integrated TV receivers. One of our ATSC members was having private meetings at CES showing off a set-top receiver, and Sinclair showed a set-top receiver publicly in the ATSC booth at CES. We now have HDMI connectivity, and also USB ports on virtually every TV display. I would expect a rich assortment of new products that include ATSC 3.0 as a key ingredient. We are really just getting started with integrated TV sets, and we’re delighted that industry leaders LG Electronics, Samsung, and Sony are starting things off with ATSC 3.0 electronics built inside their most advanced sets. In South Korea today, nearly 50 percent of TVs sold in Korea are UHD TVs with ATSC 3.0 capability. When do you predict this will be the case in the U.S.?

Noland: Of course, just like the original HDTV transition, we walk before we run. Americans still buy more than 40 million TVs each year. A few years ago, only a few models were capable of 4K Ultra HDTV display. Now, virtually every screen can do that.

Within five years, it’s possible that virtually every set will carry the NEXTGEN TV label. We’ve worked cooperatively with the Consumer Technology Association and its members to develop a self-certification program for the NEXTGEN TV mark. So broadcasters have assurance that the sets that will come to the market will work as intended. That collaboration is essential for success. What (and how long) will it take to get Cable TV providers to begin passing through ATSC 3.0 signals to their subscribers? Can Next Gen TV succeed if it is only available as an OTA-only service?

Noland: NEXTGEN TV is not exclusive to over-the-air broadcasting. NEXTGEN TV powered by ATSC 3.0 absolutely will work with cable, and as with today’s ATSC 1.0, carriage is determined by business partnerships between broadcasters and operators. ATSC has a Specialist Group dedicated to ATSC 3.0 redistribution over Multi-channel Video Program Distribution systems (MVPDs). Cable operators are keenly interested in the advanced capability of ATSC 3.0 technology, and we applaud cable operators and broadcasters that are already in discussions about ATSC 3.0 signal carriage over MVPD systems.  

Noland (far right) onstage with her band “Brave Pursuit”.

Noland (far right) onstage with her band “Brave Pursuit”. What’s your take on UHD delivery to the home. Video service providers in the U.S have been slow to offer UHD programming. Can OTA solve this?

Noland: Much the same as the transition to HDTV two decades ago, it will be the customer that drives interest in better picture quality. I recall many network providers being concerned about the bandwidth that HDTV would consume. But when they found out that their best customers wanted HDTV, and that it could be an important differentiator, then they found a way to make it happen. Given that most big-screen sales today are 4K Ultra HDTV sets, I would think that a similar trend is in the wings. Plus, cable and satellite companies know the benefits of IP-delivered content. Both over-the-air and over-the-top are going to be essential. You’ve been working in the media delivery industry your entire career. What’s been the biggest technical advancement you’ve seen occur?

Noland: The entrance of Internet Protocol (IP) into the broadcasting ecosystem is a major advancement. This is evident in the quick acceptance of SMPTE 2110 into the studio and the adoption of ATSC 3.0 IP-based broadcast system - the first of its kind in the world. Imagine a world where data can be easily and automatically diverted to the best network for a given use case, even dynamically. With IP as a common element between ATSC 3.0, Wi-Fi, 5G/LTE, and many other systems, convergence between networks becomes possible for the first time. When is Brave Pursuit’s next gig?

Noland: Thanks for asking! Brave Pursuit will play in Quincy, MA in May and will be releasing our second album soon. But also watch for the "Multicasters," the ATSC’s own house band. We’ll give a great show on the first evening of the Next Gen Broadcast Conference on May 20, 2020 in Washington DC at the Reagan Center. Don’t miss it! Oh, and the conference will also be fabulous!

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