Honing Advanced Television’s Leading Edge

Top TV engineering technologists update the current status of ATSC 3.0. The cloud is the unifier.

Many of the BEIT ATSC 3.0 sessions were originally scheduled to be presented Saturday before the NAB Show exhibits should have opened. The virtual BEIT Express was a welcome alternative to a day in LVCC room N257, and a tremendous opportunity to learn the latest from the masters without having to leave home or tip anyone.

A great deal of new ATSC 3.0 / Nextgen TV info was shared. Many papers were highly focused, detailed and available for viewing and reviewing here through the end of August 2020. Following are the key highlights from the opening session.

The opening Keynote Panel included Mark Aitken SVP of Advanced Technology at Sinclair Broadcast Group, One Media / Sinclair Broadcast Group, Peter Guglielmino, Media & Entertainment CTO at IBM, Will Law, Chief Architect of Cloud Engineering at Akamai, Mark O'Brien, President at SpectraRep, and NAB’s Lynn Claudy, Sr VP Technology, and Sam Matheny, EVP Technology and CTO. It began with recognizing that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Grand Alliance system ATSC Standard A/53 publication and the beginning of OTA DTV.

The Year TV Changed

NAB’s Sam Matheny began with a 2020 TV broadcasting status report. "We are not just dealing with a crisis, but we are also dealing with a catalyst. Things are changing rapidly in ways that people probably didn't think was possible. Companies have adopted remote production, cloud technologies, distributed master control and so much more. These are things that would typically take years to convince people of, and years more still to deploy."

Matheny continued, "It has become a catalyst that empowered change in our industry. It unleashed your talents and your genius because you were tasked with adapting and changing and getting to a place where you can thrive in this new operating environment."

About 75% of the TV station workforce has been displaced from the office. Engineering is keeping stations on the air with massive changes. "I've had numerous CEO conversations about how the technology and the engineering is what has enabled their stations to stay on the air and to continue to serve their communities," Matheny said, “and its worked quite well.” He concluded “Broadcast engineers are your company heroes of this pandemic. Thank you for all you are doing.”

OTA’s Big Advantage

What makes the electronic communications of TV broadcasting unique is tall towers with high ERPs, blanketing markets with RF and simultaneous one-to-many delivery. The Keynote panel reported on the technology and business case for ATSC 3.0 datacasting services because it enables broadcasters to offer services to reduce data distribution costs in four new markets.

One market is OTT program distribution to the network edge. Predictive analytics make it possible to pre-position large volumes of video at the edge of an OTT distribution network. A broadcast network can transport large volumes of data to nearly unlimited users at significantly lower cost than broadband.

The second market is telecoms offloading of unprofitable TV program distribution. A “true broadcast” standard can provide much higher efficiencies and service qualities in point to multipoint distribution versus 5G MBMS/eMBMS/FeMBMS.

Third is reducing telecom infrastructure build costs. When major live broadcasts temporarily raise the demand for video transport, video can be offloaded to a broadcast data network, reducing the number of 5G towers needed to cover a region at significantly lower costs. Fourth is one-to-many simultaneous automobile software upgrades.


Following a thorough panel discussion on the challenges or ‘headwinds’ to building a ‘Broadcast Core Network’  Mark Aitken asked, “How do you direct the flow of network traffic?”

Peter Guglielmino answered that the broadcast TV industry needs to build a core network for interoperability, services, and billing, and interoperability across the industry. A device is going to have access to multiple networks. Something needs to orchestrate connections like telcos do, to provide the primary building blocks to move forward.

TV needs a way to provide an abstraction layer to make them portable, to provision, monitor and manage the networks and be agnostic and be available across multiple private and public clouds and data center environments. It will need automation with lots of machine learning (ML) involved to spot potential problems before they become a problem and suggest remedies. The key is end to end security from core through application because some workloads may contain private data. This is the focus of what ATSC Planning Team 8 is all about and what they will be investigating.

Guglielmino’s hope is that “we put this together in such a way that ATSC 3.0 fits nicely into existing networks, interoperates with them, and we can provide the best interconnectivity across all of these – both telco, broadcast, cable and Wi-Fi.”

Aitken replied “This activity is underway. Its just been launched within ATSC and there’s a planning team. But what ATSC sees today is an influx of folks who are well on their way or have already have many years under the belt of cloudification of operations. We’ve got similar activities underway. We’ve got all these RSNs and in another year they’ve got to have a new home. We’re not going to build a new home like we did 10 years ago with racks and racks of dedicated servers, playout devices and editing. That will be pushed to the cloud. It’s the only way that you can achieve scale and just as importantly is the ability to stretch across all of those available platforms, so it’s a broadcast core, it’s a telco core and its Wi-Fi. You already have a cable core process underway. All of these things are coming together in a unified environment, and the cloud is the unifier.”

Petabytes? No Problem

Aitken addressed the headwinds, emphasizing that nothing is going to automatically fall in place. “Sinclair is part of Pearl,” he said, “We’re leveraging and doing extensions to the Pearl Broadcast receiver app which has already proven its ability to play across the majority of CE devices.” Twenty different Nextgen TV receivers are coming to the market this year.

Aitken described the value of bits by comparing data pricing. Retail price for mobile wireless 4G LTE is approximately USD $12/GB, and it wholesales for about $2/GB. The wholesale price of fixed wired transmission is about $0.02. The wholesale price of ATSC 3.0 wireless data transmission is $ 0.0002/GB. The pricing advantage to the consumer on a GB-delivered basis is 10,000:1.

The scale gap that broadcasters can close is the current value of bits compared to the future value of bits for simultaneous streaming or downloading to large numbers of devices. Aitken said “We’re not saying that these are universal bits in the sense of our platform’s as good as everybody elses, but there’s a specific purposes that scale nicely with the X factor of how many receive devices are in a market. If one transmission can deliver one gigabyte to a million received devices, then you’ve delivered a petabyte. That’s where X factor scaling comes into play.” 

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