ATVA, ACA Connects Voice New Concerns Against NAB ATSC Proposal

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ACA Connects and the American Television Alliance (ATVA) have made their thoughts loud and clear to the FCC that a NAB licensing proposal permitting originating stations to arrange for “host” stations to transmit their ATSC 1.0 multicast programming — even when the originating stations do not transmit that multicast programming themselves in ATSC 3.0 — “could inadvertently permit stations to aggregate spectrum and programming.”


This, ACA Connects and the American Television Alliance (ATVA) argue, could create a new loophole to local media ownership rules, giving broadcasters “yet another avenue to evade the top-four prohibition and thereby raise consumer prices.”

On May 27, the ATVA reiterated its viewpoint on the matter during a May 27 video conference with FCC Media Bureau staff, described in an ex parte letter submitted earlier this week to the Commission.

The video conference saw Video Division Chief Barbara Kreisman joined by other FCC staff — Brendan Holland, Ty Bream, Mark Columbo, Kevin Harding and Evan Baranoff.

Present on behalf of ATVA and its Member Companies were Mike Chappell, Ross Lieberman for ACA Connects, Charter‘s Maureen O’Connell, Stacy Fuller and Brenna Sparks for DirecTV, Verizon‘s Leora Hochstein, Dish‘s Courtney Tolerico, and attorney Michael Nilsson of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP.

The discussion centered on ATVA’s comments and viewpoint regarding the ATSC 3.0 plan, which lead to the organization suggesting “modest improvements” to the NAB proposal.

What, exactly, is the suggestion from the ATVA, ACA Connects and the other MVPD-related entities?

The NAB’s most recent proposal states, “The Commission [could] allow a station to demonstrate that it had not acquired access to more capacity than it would otherwise have by demonstrating that it could successfully transmit all hosted programming on a single ATSC 1.0 facility,” it writes. “A station could make this demonstration in a variety of ways including, for example, by demonstrating that it was already transmitting all hosted streams on its own facilities prior to deploying ATSC 3.0 service, by providing an example of another ATSC 1.0 station in the same or a different market carrying the same or a similar programming lineup, or by providing an analysis from a consulting engineer.”

For the ATVA and its partners, “this proposal represents a step in the right direction.”

However, they add, “It needs to explicitly reference picture quality or some other measure of ‘capacity’ in order to work.”

The NAB, for its part, appears to agree with ATVA and its partners on this point, the groups acknowledge.

“If one were to add, ‘taking into account reasonable comparisons of bitrate
and picture quality’ at the end of the last sentence, the proposal would work much
better,” the ATVA suggests.

Meanwhile, the ATVA took aim at the NAB suggestion that, to prevent a “waste of Commission and broadcaster resources,” broadcasters should have to make this showing only upon Commission inquiry or complaint. “ATVA members have no interest in becoming the multicast police,” it said. “[The] kind of showing required—at least if we understand it correctly—would be quite simple. A station would simply have to state in its multicast licensing materials that, for example, it intends to offer three multicasts on host stations, two in high definition (1080p each) and one in standard definition (480i), as do many other television stations today.”

A station would then have to update this information as necessary.

“It could also put this information on its website,” the ATVA said. “To be clear, we do not view NAB’s proposal as requiring highly technical bit-by-bit comparisons—and we do not intend to prohibit multicasting that takes place in the marketplace today or that will take place in the future. We thus imagine that circumstances requiring an engineering report would be quite rare indeed.”

And, although the ATVA and its partners did not discuss the issue at our videoconference, it took the opportunity in the ex parte letter to restate its belief that non-simulcast multicasting should not become permanent. “As we have noted before, non-simulcast multicasting bears a particular risk of entrenchment,” ATVA counsel Michael Nilsson said. “If the arrangement involved true simulcasting, it would presumably end at some point in the future if everybody switches to ATSC 3.0. With non-simulcast multicasting, the multicast host station is the only entity providing the originating station’s multicast programming to viewers. It cannot stop doing so without disrupting the public (assuming people are watching). If broadcasters decide to use their ATSC 3.0 spectrum for something other than broadcasting, they will most likely expect and will surely demand to be able to continue offering such multicasting programming permanently. We thus continue to believe that the terms of non-simulcasting multicasting agreements should be limited to five years.”

During that period, the Commission should do the following, the ATVA suggests:

o Require parties to file such agreements as part of their simulcasting applications.
o Require parties to provide notice to consumers of such arrangements and the fact
that they are temporary.
o Require both parties to such an arrangement to certify annually that the
arrangement is not necessary for the originating- or host-station to continue its
operations.

“These measures will help avoid establishing viewer reliance on temporary multicasting
measure and forestall future pleas to grandfather this multicasting as a means of
preserving service or station operations,” the ATVA concludes.

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