MIAMI — For some industry observers, the arrival of next-generation digital broadcast TV through the use of the ATSC 3.0 standard has a worrisome corollary to that of HD Radio in the U.S.
Will it flop, given the huge surge of OTT consumption and the pending arrival of 5G technology? Or, will consumers flock to crystal-clear coverage of live events including sports and local news, along with network fare across the once-coveted prime-time hours?
Broadcast TV owners say the latter will keep companies such as Nexstar Media Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group, The E.W. Scripps Co., and Hearst Television, among others, in the black for years to come.
An International Telecommunications Union (ITU) decision may have very well solidified that belief.
The ITU has formally adopted ATSC 3.0 as a recommended digital broadcast standard, a move the Advanced Television Systems Committee says will open the door for countries across Earth to evaluate and use the IP-based digital broadcast standard, the first of its kind.
ATSC 3.0, which is being marketed as “NEXT GEN TV” to consumers, was developed by “hundreds of industry experts” who sought to create a state-of-the-art broadcast system based on the same Internet Protocol language used by over-the-top services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and Disney +.
What it will do for broadcast TV will be akin, in many ways, to what OTT has already done for the industry. “Flexibility and adaptability” are key traits, with clearer picture and better sound quality two promises from ATSC. Of course, the big reward for the millions of dollars broadcast TV companies will spend on upgrades for ATSC 3.0 is addressable advertising — the holy grail of how to reach consumers via visual and/or audio media in the 2020s.
“ATSC 3.0 is designed to deliver everything from 4K Ultra HD to robust mobile signals, enabling new business models and giving consumers a better experience,” the ATSC says.
ATSC Board Chairman Lynn Claudy, who serves full-tie as SVP of Technology for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), says, “The decision by the ITU is yet another signal that digital terrestrial broadcasting has a bright future ahead.”
Claudy adds that with initial U.S. deployments in place, “we’re anticipating the first announcements of consumer receivers for the U.S. market in the coming days.”
That could very well come at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which opens Tuesday (1/7).
The next step is to update the ITU Digital Handbook with best practices for implementation of ATSC 3.0.
ATSC members are poised to continue supporting international standards efforts, including through the new ATSC Planning Team 6 on Global Recognition of ATSC 3.0.
ATSC President Madeleine Noland notes that the next-gen TV system is currently commercially deployed in South Korea, where audiences have had access to high-quality Ultra HD video and next generation audio from ATSC 3.0 broadcasts since 2017.
Noland singled out ATSC members Sinclair Broadcast Group, ONE Media 3.0, and ETRI (South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute) for their leadership role in the ITU process. “This milestone achievement is testament to the spirit of international collaboration that our members infused into the standard at every level,” Noland said.
With ATSC 3.0 getting a global nod, it could prevent a repeat of the rollout of digital radio as seen in the U.S., compared to other countries across the globe.
Some 15 years after HD Radio came to fruition, it has yet to achieve critical mass in the U.S. This is due to several factors, including the industry’s decision to go with an in-band, on-channel (IBOC) standard instead of the DAB platform that has largely been viewed as a success in such countries as Norway and the U.K., where listening levels to DAB-band broadcast radio stations are now eclipsing that of their MHz-based signals, according to RAJAR.
Another obstacle to HD Radio’s growth: Pandora, followed by Spotify, as Apple’s iTunes has waned in popularity.
Then, there is the rise of satellite radio companies Sirius and XM, now one entity. Outside of North America, satellite radio doesn’t exist. In the U.S., it captures some 10% of all listening.
Add in podcasts, and HD Radio’s challenges are myriad compared to that of next-gen TV, as broadcast TV continues to offer content not found anywhere else, and of desire to consumers.
It’s perhaps a lesson for the radio industry to digest, as the free-to-air television business looks ripe for long-term success.