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Telecommunication broadcast towers seen against sunset sky: ATSC 3.0

What Does ATSC 3.0 Mean for Local Stations?

August 9th, 2017   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), the international organization that develops voluntary standards for digital television, has created its masterwork: ATSC 3.0. This standard, also known as Next Gen TV, brings broadcast firmly into the digital and mobile era.

Next Gen TV supports the following:

  • 4K ultra high definition (4K UHD)
  • High dynamic range (HDR)
  • High frame rate (HFR)
  • Wide color gamut (WCG)
  • 3-D television
  • Mobile television

“The ATSC 3.0 standards have the potential to transform local broadcast TV and make local broadcasters key players in the TV of tomorrow. It will allow them to offer richer content, gather more granular data, and—thanks, for example, to its conditional-access features—adopt new business models,” says Tracy Swedlow, founder/CEO at TV of Tomorrow and futurist, in an interview with MediaPost. Here’s a breakdown of what it all means.

Better Portability

ATSC 3.0 could make watching television more like going to a movie theater—if consumers are willing to pay to upgrade their actual TVs. But another large portion of the standard is designed to address the multitude of use cases that fall under the broad umbrella of “mobile.”

ATSC notes that consumers are watching television content via a variety of platforms and devices: “Flexibility in service options is a keystone of the next-generation ATSC 3.0 DTV broadcast system, including the opportunity for terrestrial broadcasters to send hybrid content services to fixed and mobile receivers seamlessly—combining both over-the-air transmission and broadband delivery.” In other words, viewers will have many more options for viewing local station programming.

Better Service

The new standards also provide for more efficient use of spectrum, which is another benefit for local stations. They’ll be able to create more specialized channels offering educational and public-service programming, two areas that are core to the mission of local stations, according to an ATSC interview with Patrick Butler, president and CEO at America’s Public Television Stations. The standard even allows for the enhanced distribution of emergency information, putting local stations even closer to their communities’ well-being, according to TV Technology.

Another feature is the ability to deliver additional services alongside video. According to the ATSC, a station could broadcast a show in one language while delivering alternate language audio streams via broadband. This would allow viewers to choose their preferred language for programming. In our increasingly multicultural society, such an offering could increase viewer loyalty and show people whose first language is not English that their local station cares about them. At the same time, the station could let advertisers target audiences by language with in-language ads.

Better Addressability

Under ATSC 3.0, linear ads in live broadcasts can be replaced with targeted ads based on geography or demographics. By combining this capability with automated TV buying platforms, local TV stations could offer advertisers the combination of audience targeting and streamlined advertising workflow already found in online advertising.

The spec will allow broadcasters to capture data about viewers’ actual consumption instead of having to rely on third-party measurement services. Fierce Cable reports that Fox Television CEO Jack Abernethy sees the new audience measurement system as the most valuable part of the specification. However, broadcasters will need to work with vendors or develop their own measurement tools in order to take advantage of this aspect of the spec.

Better Get Ready!

Although ATSC 3.0 is still not complete, it’s time for broadcasters to plan deployments, according to TV Technology. ATSC has developed a set of recommended practices to guide TV station engineers.

Ultimately, stations will follow their own paths to the Next Gen TV upgrade. But this is more than just a technology shift—it could become a powerful shift in station business models as well.

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