ONE Media Is Helping Navigate The Broadcast Industry’s Future For OTA Data Delivery

We discuss the roll out of ATSC 3.0 in the USA with Jerald Fritz, Executive Vice President for Strategic and Legal Affairs at ONE Media 3.0 - part of Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The roll out of NextGen TV terrestrial broadcasts in the U.S. continues at a determined pace, with the ATSC 3.0 standard currently on the air in more than 50 markets. The ATSC’s stated goal is to reach 80 percent of the country by the end of 2023 and it takes about 4-6 months to launch a new station in each market.

In the meantime, those that have gone on air are experimenting with new types of revenue-generating services, like in-car entertainment and controlling IoT systems like agricultural irrigation system. Most of the deployments are in markets with few television sets capable of receiving these new signals, but with set prices coming down and receiver chips now available in a number of new 4K models, there’s hope for the future.

According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), 2022 shipments of NextGen TV is projected at 4.5 million, growing to 7.8 million next year, and then a huge jump to 15.7 million (the ‘tipping point”) in 2024. In fact, 2024 is the being called the “inflection point” with an installed base of more than 30 million sets in homes by the end of that year. By 2025, the technology is projected to be in three out of four TV sets sold.

ONE Media 3.0 was established by Sinclair Broadcast Group—which owns 200 local television stations nationwide that reach 40 percent of the TV audience—to solve the associated business, technical, and political challenges while supporting mobile video broadband services (wired and wireless). Sinclair-owned stations WSET, in Lynchburg, Virginia, and WTTO, In Birmingham Alabama, are the most recent Sinclair stations to begin NextGen TV broadcasts.

Jerald Fritz is the company’s Executive Vice President for Strategic and Legal Affairs and plays a key role in implementing ONE Media 3.0’s vision for next-generation wireless content distribution. He spoke exclusively with TheBroadcastBridge.com about the on-going rollout of services and what the future of OTA broadcasting in the U.S. (as well as Canada, Mexico and South Korea) might look like.

TheBroadcastBridge.com: How many Sinclair stations are now on the air with ATSC 3.0?

Fritz: Sinclair stations are part of the NextGen Broadcast deployment in 34 markets with three more on tap for this calendar year. Of those markets, Sinclair is the ATSC 3.0 host in 27. Coordination for the deployment in those markets has been led by BitPath, a joint venture between Sinclair and Nexstar. BitPath is also developing new data broadcasting services and planning processes that broadcasters can use to make the move.

ONE Media’s Jerald Fritz.

ONE Media’s Jerald Fritz.

How long does it take to convert a station to ATSC 3.0 and what new equipment, besides the transmitter (at what power level?), is required?

Fritz: Deployment of a market involves much more than engineering—equipment purchases and installation. Unlike the nationwide mandatory switch from the analog to digital standard (ATSC 1.0), the voluntary market-by-market deployment plan adopted by the FCC requires market discussions among potential participants and analysis to determine the best candidates for 3.0 and 1.0 hosting to accommodate the FCC’s 1.0 simulcasting requirement.

That analysis involves matching signal contours, UHF/VHF transmission capabilities, program loads on each station and various network bit requirements. Once this “channel mapping” process is complete, hosting agreements (1.0 and 3.0) must be negotiated, program rights consents must be obtained, MVPD notices issues and regulatory applications must be submitted. That is all before the equipment is ordered and installed. We have the process down to about 4-6 months per market.

In terms of equipment, the primary issue is determining the encoder capabilities for each 1.0 and 3.0 host and the connectivity among the stations and the 3.0 host. Depending on the 3.0 host’s equipment, it may need a new transmitter and/or antenna.

With few compatible TV sets in the market (do you know how many?) why should a station launch NextGen TV services now?

Fritz: NextGen Broadcasting is the essential saving technology for the [US] broadcast industry. It enables both enhanced traditional linear television programming to fixed and now mobile devices, and more importantly, a multitude of new business opportunities to use valuable spectrum capacity for other non-TV services. As a program distribution platform, television broadcasters face a multitude of competing outlets from cable to satellite to streaming. Survival of our business requires that broadcasters expand their horizons to maximize their fundamental asset – their broadcast channel.

We are pleased that the CE manufacturers are including 3.0 capacity in their new products, and we are encouraged by the growth of millions of sets being sold. We are also encouraged by the number of companies designing and building equipment to enable the existing legacy 1.0 receive devices to carry traditional television programming. Deploying NextGen Broadcast technology is an existential mandate for all broadcasters and we are quite pleased to see the participation from all broadcaster groups – commercial and non-commercial.

What type of outreach are you doing to educate the public about NextGen TV?

Fritz: This is primarily being done on a market-by-market basis. It makes little sense (and is counter-productive) to tease buyers to purchase new equipment if their local market has not deployed yet. We’re at about 60% of the population that can receive a NextGen Broadcast signal. That is growing. As major markets deploy, that number will increase quickly, and we can move towards more national messaging.

How do you anticipate establishing a back channel to viewers for two-way interactivity? A cellphone app? Who's developing it?

Fritz: Internet connectivity can provide the necessary interactivity for those services that require it. Well over 80% of all internet usage today is for one-way video streaming. That is, of course, the broadcasters’ sweet spot.

At the same time, broadcasters have developed the Broadcaster App which provides the interactive “two-way” functionality that consumers have come to expect, giving viewers/users the opportunity for a personalized experience. Importantly, any interactivity that is needed is not required in most cases on a real time basis. The Broadcast App that has been developed by Sinclair’s ONE Media has been open-sourced and made publicly accessible.

BitPath is working on a datacasting service. What will this be used for?

Fritz: BitPath, our joint venture with Nexstar, is first and foremost in the business of aggregating spectrum for datacasting services. Their mission is to provide customers with an entirely new wireless platform, built upon an efficient broadcast architecture.

There are a myriad of use cases enabled by such an IP-based transmission platform, ranging from servicing electronic vehicle charging stations, content and data services to autonomous driving vehicles, provision of multiple radio signals within the 3.0 broadcast capacity, servicing electronic billboards, IoT device monitoring, precise (down to the centimeter) drone deliveries, and enhanced GPS services like BitPath’s NavPath and BitPoint offerings using the position, navigation and timing capabilities built in to the NextGen Broadcast platform.

Besides linear TV, (4K?), what other services will you be able to provide by moving to NextGen TV? (Automotive, agriculture, etc.)?

Fritz: Aside from those mentioned above, Advanced Emergency Informing will be a critical data application for NextGen Broadcasting. Rather than a simple crawl on your TV screen, wouldn’t it be better to see the live Doppler radar, the evacuation routes, the shelter locations, hear it in multiple languages, turning on sleeping devices and not subject to a fragile cell phone system where towers are unlikely to survive a catastrophic event?

NextGen Broadcasting will also mean direct-to-mobile services. We are currently demonstrating to the Indian government the enormously efficient use of broadcast spectrum for services that can bypass the wired network to engage a billion people in that country using the NextGen Broadcast capabilities.

There are multiple other automotive and vehicular service applications. Extensive work has been done to enhance GPS positioning, demonstrating the centimeter level of accuracy required for future autonomous vehicle guidance, whether that be cars and trucks, farm equipment or drones. Work is being done around automotive audio services and will be featured in the ATSC booth at the CES 2023 show.

There are many more service opportunities. ONE Media 3.0 has just completed a three-part webinar series, “Automotive use of a Broadcast/Multicast Wireless Network to enhance 4G and 5G” where automotive industry professionals lay out many of the use cases. The webinar recordings are available at https://www.atsc3advocate.com/

What type of programming will Sinclair stations feature as part of their NextGen TV broadcasts?

Fritz: The government’s requirement that the 3.0 deployment not “disenfranchise” current 1.0 viewers has a substantial limiting impact on the available 3.0 capacity on any station that has changed its transmission standard. That said, TV program quality in all Sinclair stations has improved using “Advanced HDR by Technicolor” to provide High Dynamic Range to existing programming. As we move forward, other enhancements will be provided. Additionally, the IP nature of the service permits us to include a Broadcast App in our programming, merging broadcast and broadband content and giving the viewer the capability to dive deeper into program offerings or select new programming.

How long do you anticipate it will be before your ATSC 1.0 broadcast will be turned off (if ever)?

Fritz: The key to the 1.0 sunset will be a ubiquitous and affordable dongle-type converter that enables existing receivers to carry NextGen Broadcast programming. Similar to the “converter box program” that helped the analog-to-digital transition, we believe that the industry will develop these conversion devices that will accelerate the move to an all-IP transmission world and permit the simulcast rules to go away.

When do you think NextGen TV will reach the majority of the U.S.?

Fritz: We have already surpassed the majority mark in terms of population. Our expectation is that by the end of 2023 we should hit between 75%-80% of the population. Across the country, how many stations will Sinclair have on air in NextGen TV by the end of this year? As noted, Sinclair will have 37 stations up and running transmitting programming in 3.0 and over 50 by next year.

What does the future of NextGen TV look like? Will it be a hybrid of linear and digital services?

Fritz: Broadcasters will continue to do what they do VERY well—provide quality linear and non-linear content to viewers. They will also be involved in multiple other businesses by essentially using their bits to enable other use cases. Those bits will likely be amalgamated by third parties who will consolidate the bits and allocate them among users who need a reliable and affordable platform to meet their datacasting needs.

How much of an effect did the pandemic have on the rollout of NextGen TV?

Fritz: Broadcasters adapted relatively quickly to the pandemic lockdowns. It is a testament to the deployment teams that we have over half the country able to receive a NextGen Broadcast offering. Yes, there is the addition of some physical hardware, but because of today’s cloud-based service capability and virtualization technologies, much of what is required to reconfigure and deploy the advanced capabilities of ATSC 3.0 is done without a physical presence.

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