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Video/Media

FCC wants answers about 'NextGen TV' transition

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to turn up the heat on ATSC 3.0, the new, IP-based broadcast signaling standard that is also known by its consumer brand, "NextGen TV."

The standard, now supported by certain broadcasters in dozens of US markets, paves the way for a wide range of enhancements to over-the-air TV signals. Those include delivery of video in the 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) formats, immersive audio, datacasting/broadband services, interactive apps (including advanced advertising), the potential to reach mobile devices, enhanced emergency alerts and, in some cases, a path to multichannel pay-TV packages.

NextGen TV is the consumer brand of ATSC 3.0, a new, IP-based broadcast signaling standard that supports 4K video and the potential to reach mobile devices.
  (Source: Advanced Television Systems Committee)
NextGen TV is the consumer brand of ATSC 3.0, a new, IP-based broadcast signaling standard that supports 4K video and the potential to reach mobile devices.
(Source: Advanced Television Systems Committee)

From a high level, the FCC's recently approved Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) asks broadcasters and other industry stakeholders to provide an update on their voluntary ATSC 3.0 transitions. Comments and replies are expected to be filed with the FCC (in docket 16-142) within the next couple of months.

The FCC is also asking if it should allow the scheduled 2023 sunset of two rules, including one that requires that a NextGenTV station's primary ATSC 1.0 video programming stream be "substantially similar" to the primary 3.0 programming stream. The other is related to the scheduled 2023 sunset of requirements that NextGenTV stations comply with the ATSC A/322 standard, which aims to ensure that cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) can carry the stream.

Adoption update

An update on voluntary adoption of the NextGenTV standard by US broadcasters is key to this review. Heading into it, the FCC estimates that, as of June 21, 2022, it had licensed 306 broadcast TV stations to provide NextGenTV/ATSC 3.0 service. Additionally, ATSC 3.0 stations have been licensed to operate in 68 markets, though "in some cases it may be a single low power television station," the FCC noted.

Expanding on that, the FCC wants to know what the path ahead is for voluntary ATSC 3.0 deployments, by what date broadcasters expect to have some ATSC 3.0 service in all 210 US designated market areas (DMAs), and when they expect to be ready to transition entire markets to ATSC 3.0.

Exploring pay-TV support for 'NextGenTV'

The FCC review will also explore how or if cable operators and other pay-TV operators intend to carry 3.0 signals, and what kind of technical challenges they face in carrying them.

The FCC is also asking which enhanced features supported by ATSC 3.0 (such as 4K and interactive apps) MVPDs expect to be able to pass along to their subscribers now and into the future.

This review arrives nearly five years after the FCC authorized TV broadcasters to use ATSC 3.0 on a voluntary, market-driven basis, with the caveat that they continue to simulcast TV programming on the current-gen ATSC 1.0 standard.

"As part of this review, we seek comment on whether broadcasters still consider ATSC 3.0 to be a trial technology and the extent to which broadcasters intend to fully transition to 3.0 at some point," the FCC explained.

Among other specific questions, the FCC wants to know how many broadcasters are providing access to all of the "Big 4" networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and what percentage of 3.0 viewers have access to such programming. The FCC also wonders what other data it should be tracking to monitor the state of the ATSC 3.0 transition, and if existing FCC databases are sufficient to track such information.

CE sales

The FCC will also explore the availability, pricing and sales activity of ATSC 3.0 consumer TV equipment, including TVs outfitted with ATSC 3.0 tuners as well as gateways and set-top boxes that can support or convert 3.0 signals. At last check, about 70 TV models from Samsung, Sony and LG Electronics support ATSC 3.0 today, with China's Hisense on board to build sets that support the new standard.

More than 100 TV models are expected to support ATSC 3.0 by later in 2022, Anne Schelle, managing director of broadcast TV consortium Pearl TV, recently told Light Reading. Pearl TV's members include Cox Media Group, the E.W. Scripps Company, Graham Media Group, Hearst Television, Nexstar Media Group, Gray Television, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tegna.

The FCC said press reports suggest that the least expensive 3.0-compatible set is a mid-size TV that consistently lists for more than $400, and that the cheapest ATSC 3.0 gateway device available for purchase is the $199 HDHomeRun 4K from SiliconDust.

LG is currently selling this 77-inch OLED Evo Gallery Edition TV, which includes an ATSC 3.0 tuner, for almost $4,000. 
  (Source: LG Electronics)
LG is currently selling this 77-inch OLED Evo Gallery Edition TV, which includes an ATSC 3.0 tuner, for almost $4,000.
(Source: LG Electronics)

The FCC is also seeking comment and data on how many over-the-air (OTA) TV viewers are currently watching ATSC 3.0 broadcasts and how many have a TV set with (or attached to) a 3.0 tuner.

Focus on consumer education

The review also extends to consumer outreach, with the FCC asking broadcasters what they are doing to educate OTA TV viewers, and how effective they've been in informing viewers about the transition.

Recent data shows that progress is being made. A study by Magid in partnership with Dolby Laboratories indicates that consumer awareness of NextGenTV/ATSC 3.0 is rising – at least in markets where it's available and being promoted with a mix of ads touting the various capabilities of NextGenTV.

The study, based on a survey of 2,800 consumers, found that 40% of consumers were aware of NextGenTV, up from 25% last year in markets where it's available, with half of that group currently using TVs supported by ATSC 3.0.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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