Broadcasters are building the transmission infrastructure and market transition models for NextGen TV.
Several licensed experimental ATSC 3.0 stations have been on the air for some time. Now, the first commercial ATSC 3.0 stations have signed on in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Phoenix.
A second ATSC 3.0 signal is on the air in Phoenix, with the launch of ATSC 3.0 transmission from KASW-TV (CW) in the nation’s 11th largest TV market. The two Phoenix ATSC 3.0 stations have licenses granted by the FCC, programming legal agreements in place, and facilities on-air. KASW-TV is owned by The E.W. Scripps Company. The new Scripps NextGen TV station will also host the ATSC 3.0 transmission of FOX owned and operated affiliate KSAZ-TV as part of the initial launch.
“The addition of a second transmission facility provides a robust test platform with the power of two transmitters for signal testing by consumer receiver and transmission equipment manufacturers. The Phoenix Model Market continues to lead the industry in the development of the essential next-gen TV service as well as the testing of new automotive services,” said Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV, which is coordinating the Phoenix Model Market.
The call letters are the same, in this case, between KASW as a 1.0 service and KASW as a 3.0 service. Broadcasters have the ability with the ATSC 3.0 standard to add a “display name” to include characters that differentiate how services are displayed. TV manufacturers may also offer a description that allows the viewer to see the difference (such as when “HD” is added to differentiate between an “SD” and an “HD” signal.)
Phoenix SFN Buildout
According to TV Query at fcc.gov, in late January 2020 Scripps Broadcasting Holdings LLC was granted a total of 27 Construction Permits for “DTS Digital Television (Distributed service -- multiple transmitter sites)” transmitters and antennas in four separate Phoenix market locations. Nine systems are at one site, eight systems are at another site and two other sites were granted five Construction Permits each, all transmitting as an SFN on Channel 27 (Virtual Channel 61). "Currently conditions in Phoenix are very fluid, we will be announcing more details about the SFN soon," said Ray Thurber, VP: Engineering at Scripps Media.
“Scripps is pleased to partner with the stations in the Phoenix market to continue to advance next-generation TV service offerings for our viewers and advertisers,” said Brian Lawlor, president of Local Media for Scripps. “Our focus is on delivering local content that informs and entertains our audiences, and these technological advancements will move the entire industry forward.”
"This second station in Phoenix shows the keen interest in the broadcast community to explore the exciting growth and capabilities of NextGen TV. The Phoenix Model Market participates will make use of this second station to expand our business development efforts,” said Richard Friedel, Executive VP of Engineering for FOX Television Stations.
Viewers in Phoenix watching on conventional digital TV sets will easily find their familiar channels after the launch of the KASW-TV next-gen TV broadcasts. After rescanning, all the current programming carried on KASW-TV remains on the familiar channel locations thanks to virtual channels and sharing arrangements with other TV broadcasters in the Phoenix market.
More than 60 U.S. markets have been targeted as the first areas where next-gen TV service will launch, with the ATSC now tracking market deployments of the new broadcasts. Once service is launched in those markets, next-gen TV powered by ATSC 3.0 will reach more than three-quarters of the nation’s population.
I recently asked my local Walmart electronics department about NextGen TVs and got about the same response I would have expected had I asked about 1.21 gigawatt flux capacitors.
The first TV receivers equipped with ATSC 3.0 are now available from Samsung and should be available soon from LG Electronics and later this fall from Sony. There is no bottleneck, only a slight delay caused by the pandemic. The same delay pushed back ATSC 3.0 station launches by about a month or two around the USA.
Samsung, Sony and LG represent half of all Smart TV sales in the USA, and they publicly announced plans to introduce 20 new NEXTGEN TV (ATSC 3.0) models during January’s CES. Those models will reach retail outlets throughout this year.
Remote ATSC 3.0 Launches
The recent series of Sinclair ATSC 3.0 station rollouts is being managed remotely, and the efficiencies of this new approach could make this the way of the future.
When Sinclair’s first commercial ATSC 3.0 station signed on in Las Vegas, their ONE Media team controlled the launch from Sinclair headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD. Simultaneously, key suppliers were on call from distant parts of the world. From South Korea, DigiCAP engineers who provided the ATSC 3.0 air chain were monitoring the system, as were personnel located in France and the US representing the encoder supplier ATEME.
Ian Hoots, Director of NextGen Development at ONE Media 3.0/Sinclair commented, “Launching remotely requires a different level of care and planning. You have to check pre-configurations three times before you ship them to the build site because it is the last time you can conveniently touch them. This contrasts with the way these systems were built in the past, where you put all the equipment in a truck heading for the station with the basic plan of making it all work when you got there.”
Mark Aitken is SVP of Advanced Technology at Sinclair Broadcast.
Sinclair’s SVP Mark Aitken added, “What you cannot ignore is that the remote approach requires a more precise level of planning. It is like the difference between baking and cooking. To get a soufflé to rise and set properly, there is science involved. When you are cooking a routine meal, you have a lot more latitude. With IT systems there is always a recipe which is very precise. In both baking and IT there is exact timing, measurement, and specific ingredients needed to achieve the result.”
Dave Brass, VP Strategic Account at ATEME says other industries, such as telecom, have been doing remote installations for many years now. In addition, the remote activities have grown to include much more than just the installation. Said Brass, “It can start with a digital marketing campaign for a new product, which leads to an online remote demonstration, which leads to a sale, and then leads to a remote installation” Added Brass, “In some cases customers ask us, what the minimum number of people we need to send for an installation? Depending on what they are setting up, it can be either zero or one person.”
According to Sang Jin Yoon SVP of Business Development at DigiCAP, it is also common for the remote relationship to extend after the sale as well. Because ATSC 3.0 is the world’s first TV standard built to evolve, it could create maintenance activity from a steady stream of patches and upgrades. According to Yoon, his company, as well as many others, offer a managed service to automatically handle the upgrades from afar.
Remote Predictive Maintenance
Another managed remote service is predictive maintenance. According to Yoon, this is a combination of vigilant monitoring and data science: “We monitor the behavior of the systems and record and catalog all events. When we analyze the records, patterns emerge. Over time, we can predict when problems will come up.”
Will remote operations degrade personal relationships between TV facilities and their suppliers? Based on his experience with the Sinclair station roll outs Hoots does not think so, “Even though we did not meet our suppliers in person we found ourselves working quite closely with them through remote work sessions. You do miss sharing the moment when it all comes together and there is happiness in the room. Even though we miss that, we still all did an amazing job working closely with our vendors who often had to work at the edges of time windows, staying up very late for us many times. Through all of it we never felt like we were at a disadvantage because they could not be here.”
While the loss of face-to-face time between broadcasters and suppliers could be a loss to relationships, this could be more than offset by new touch points that remote work can add. Relationships could be strengthened through more frequent remote product demos as new features are added while remote managed services can add a whole new layer of post-sale contact.
Practice for Future
Looking forward, Aitken sees the remote work done on the Sinclair station launches not as a one-off, but a rehearsal for things to come, “In many ways these remote set-ups are practice rounds for the future. As more and more operations are virtualized and move to the cloud, remote work will become more common. The bigger point is that specialized broadcast hardware does not exist anymore. The challenges are no longer about integrating specialized hardware, instead the issues are about compute power, memory, and latency. Once a broadcaster completes the transition to IT infrastructure, they are dealing with virtualized functions, virtual machines, and using standard IT servers and switches made by Dell, IBM, Cisco, and HP. This has been the backbone of the Telecom industry, which is now being fitted and deployed in a broadcast environment. In the Telecom industry, remote installations and other remote work has been common for many years.”
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