FOX Talk At NATPE: ATSC 3.0’s Untapped Opportunities


The next gen broadcast TV standard, ATSC 3.0, finally got some attention from NATPE Miami participants on the second day of this three-day event that’s focused more on OTT and content ownership than anything else.

The solid endorsement of ATSC 3.0 came from FOX Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy.

Abernethy participated in a one-on-one conversation Wednesday morning (1/23) with Variety Business Editor Cynthia Littleton.

Asked about ATSC 3.0 toward the end of the interview, Abernethy said, “Broadcasters are sitting on a huge opportunity, but we don’t take long-term views.”

Abernethy described how the TV industry tends to think about tomorrow, but rarely beyond their immediate needs. “Three months out is a long way out,” he said. “But, you can’t do that [with ATSC 3.0].”

Also of concern to Abernethy is how companies that think of themselves as competitors are required to come together to pool the spectrum. This hasn’t been easy, but many operators are coming around, he notes.

Meanwhile, other opportunities exist for operators with respect to what next-gen broadcast TV signals can bring. There’s just one problem.

“This provides other opportunities in businesses we don’t understand,” Abernethy lamented.

That’s just one of the macro issues that local TV will likely be concerned with in the coming months. Speaking of the NATPE buying-and-selling climate and the presence of three new syndicated TV shows, generating buzz across the conference, Abernethy said, “There is some general optimism short-term, but none of us that think about the future are giddy.

Getting digitally ready for what’s coming is a priority, he added.

This is essential for FOX, as younger viewers are leaving broadcast TV. That’s not debatable for Abernethy — he said “yep” when asked by Littleton if the loss of millennial and Gen Z viewers is a big problem on the horizon for the TV business.

“The erosion of younger viewing is an issue for us, and most businesses,” Abernethy says.

Interestingly, this led Abernethy to pivot toward FOX’s upgrades of its news app, noting that operators should be careful to not dumb down their news products in an attempt to appeal to younger viewers who do not watch traditional newscasts.

Speaking about “New FOX,” and how the company will operate once its blockbuster merger with The Walt Disney Co. is complete, Abernethy said, “We will be smaller. We will be simpler.” But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a company with news, sports and entertainment across all of its channels.

“A con may be our size, but I’m not so sure that’s as big of a con as some people think,” he said.

Abernethy spoke highly of WWE wrestling on Friday nights, and the addition of more sports programming on Saturdays. Then, there is Thursday Night Football during the fall months.

And, he made note of regulatory moves that could allow companies to buy more stations.

“None of us want this lift of the cap, and that’s because of their own personal interest,” he said, suggesting that FOX and other companies don’t want further consolidation.