Broadcasters Consider Using ATSC 3.0 To Control IoT Devices. Is That “Broadcasting?”

Thanks to the pioneering and the sometimes overly promotional work of One Media, the wholly owned subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the new broadcast standard emerging in the U.S., called ATSC 3.0, is promising broadcasters new capabilities well beyond delivering TV signals. Yet it’s also about to change the very definition of what it means to be a “broadcaster” in today’s highly competitive video marketplace.

In a recent social media post, Mark Aitken, SVP of Advanced Technology at Sinclair and president of Media One (and, perhaps, the “godfather” of ATSC 3.0), said that they are “changing the nature of our industry's future. Televisioners no more...Bitcasting is the focus, television is but one of the services. No longer ‘Televisioner’ slaves.”

For at least a year, amidst growing competition from new OTG services, Aitken and other ATSC 3.0 proponents, including members of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) itself, have been talking about stations migrating into other businesses as “bitcasters”, “datacasters” and broadband providers. This could include sending targeted maps and traffic data and software updates to connected cars or provide communications between IoT devices for smart agriculture and telemedicine.

Various webinars and trade articles have been encouraging traditional TV broadcasters to envision a world where they could help farmers turn on and off their massive irrigation systems, using signals sent from nearby towers—just like what they do now with video. But is that still a “broadcaster”?

Aitken said traditional broadcasters should look at ATSC 3.0 as a new and competitive broadband pipe. While continuing to occupy 6 MHz of bandwidth for over-the-air transmission in the VHF or UHF frequency band, the technology has the potential to deliver a 25 Mbps data stream to Americans across the U.S. And as an IP-based standard, he said, ATSC 3.0 will enable broadcasters to leverage the same protocols—and control the same IP-enabled devices—that are used today in other broadband networks.

To accomplish this, broadcasters have to look well outside their comfort zone of delivering traditional over-the-air television and start thinking of their government-allotted wireless spectrum as a one-to-many broadband pipe. And the coming 5G wireless transmission technology will only help this cause as it could help augment their coverage or help cellular data providers add capacity by shifting data off of cellular networks.

A report by industry consultant firm Ernst & Young lays out six areas where broadcasting and the IoT would shape the future of television. They include:

  1. Storytelling will evolve to make better use of an omni-platform environment, with television programs reformatted for smaller screens and accompanied by appropriate marketing.
  2. Ubiquitous content on multiple screens will become more mobile in homes, vehicles and public spaces. The use of sensors, location devices and 5G will determine the optimization of the customer experience in a new connected lifestyle.
  3. Social dynamics and synergistic experiences will be offered based on social events occurring while specific television programs or events are being experienced.
  4. Innovation in program discovery and television controls will drive new techniques that are similar to search engine optimization based on television “content discovery optimization.” This practice focuses on continuously providing content to the broadest audience at the appropriate time.
  5. Binging will drive more innovation in measurement and personalization. Using data analytics, companies can then package the right experiences for advertisers and monetize them directly to the different types of viewers.
  6. New entrants are demanding unique content that will drive innovation beyond the traditional studio system as there is a competition between traditional content companies, distributors and new technology companies for control of the viewing experience

There are currently several live broadcasts of the ATSC 3.0 standard in major U.S. cities like Chicago, (Illinois), Dallas (Texas), Phoenix (Arizona), Lansing (Michigan) Portland (Oregon) and Santa Barbara (California). Virtually all are focusing on mobile delivery of video and data to mobile devices.

To get the new services into people’s hands (literally!), ONE Media and Saankhya Labs have developed and have begun shipping a multi-standard demodulator System-on-a-Chip (SoC) supporting the ATSC 3.0 standard. The universal demodulator chip is based on Saankhya's patented Software Defined Radio platform and supports 12 DTV standards including ATSC 3.0, DVB-T2, ISDB-T, and satellite and cable standards for TV, set-top boxes, home gateways as well for automotive and mobile applications.

At this year’s CES in January, several TV makers showed higher priced 4K and 8K models with ATSC 3.0 receiver chips inside. Sales of these expensive sets have been slow to date.

Seeding the market with receiver chips is critical to the success of ATSC 3.0 becoming commonplace in the U.S. Many say this chip is the key to a “disruptive future in a 5G world” that broadcasters must embrace.

Remember, the new TV standard is not backwards compatible with current ATSC 1.0 chips and thus can't be received without a compatible receiver chip. The hope is that this chip will make thousands of devices able to receive broadcasters’ ATSC 3.0 signals. It will also allow TV stations to send data signals—via a single-frequency network, or collection of small, synchronized towers spread around a particular market—to remotely control a wide variety of IoT devices and systems.

Along with 4K TV and immersive audio capabilities, television broadcasters in the U.S. have to devise new ways of generating income with their spectrum. Deploying ATSC 3.0 is one of those options.

The FCC has authorized broadcasters to start experimenting with ATSC 3.0, giving them the freedom to innovate—a freedom that competitors like AT&T, Apple, Microsoft and many others in the tech sector already enjoy. Under enormous pressure from a variety of competitors (like Netflix and other OTT services), television broadcasters must find a way to stay relevant and financially viable into the future. The high-tech companies that broadcasters compete with daily for advertising and consumer attention are not going to stop and wait for ATSC 3.0 to be fully deployed.

There’s no limit to what types of IoT device can be enabled using broadcasters’ wireless IP signals. It’s up to the U.S. broadcast industry itself to come together as a whole and truly make that happen. One day, they could be monitoring the content of your refrigerator or making sure the stove is turned off.

I ask again: is that a broadcaster?

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