ATSC 3.0 Marches On

March 5 marks the official launch of the new ATSC 3.0 next-gen broadcast transmission standard, at least in terms of the FCC's authorization of the new voluntary rollout.

WRAL-TV Raleigh, N.C., a pioneering station in the delivery of next-generation TV has already kicked the tires on ATSC 3.0 with the a test last month providing the first Winter Olympics broadcast in 4K HD.

The FCC still has some decisions to make about how the service will be rolled out, though it has already determined that it will be voluntary, that stations will initially have to simulcast both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 with in-market TV station partners (ATSC 3.0 is not backward compatible).

ATSC 3.0 Rollout Can Begin Next Month

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, which came up with the technical standard will be led by Madeleine Noland of LG Electronics, who is succeeding Triveni Digital's Rich Chernock atop the ATSC Technology Group.

There is still more standards work to be done, said ATSC president Mark Richer, but the race to next-gen TV has officially begun.

The standard will allow for targeted advertising and alerts, video-on-demand, interactivity--it is an IP-based standard--and more.

The new standard, which was championed by broadcasters, emergency alert groups and the Consumer Technology Association, is expected to drive sales of 4K TVs -- their higher-resolution pictures can be delivered by the new standard -- and give broadcasters a competitive foothold in the interactive, targeted advertising, IP world.

A politically divided FCC voted 3-2 on Nov. 16, 2017,  to allow for the voluntary rollout of the standard. That came over the objections of Democrats on the commission and in Congress, who argued that it was a gift to Sinclair or a rush to a standard that could leave viewers paying for the change through new TV's or equipment of higher cable prices.

ATSC 3.0 will allow TV stations to do geo-targeted ads and emergency alerts, video on demand and other interactive services using a broadband return path for viewers with Internet access, and provide those high-high definition 4K pictures.

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While most of the rule took effect Monday, three portions did not because they require information collection, which must first get the OK of the Office of Management and Budget per the Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires new regs that entail new information collection to be vetted to make sure those are not overly burdensome.

So, the portions of the rule that will not become effective until OMB signs off on their info collection (and that sign-off is also published in the Register) are those dealing with simulcasting agreements between stations (sections 73.3801, 73.6029, 74.782)

As part of the rule, stations in a market that want to roll out the transmission standard can join forces (a kind of Jack Spratt arrangement), with one transmitting both station's signals in ATSC 3.0, and the other both signals in the current ATSC 1. format--ATSC 3.0 is not backward compatible (it requires a new set or adaptor), so the FCC wants to make sure that -- for at least the first few years of the rollout--signals are available in both formats.

Broadcasters will have a chance to make a case for flash-cutting to ATSC 3.0 rather than simulcasting, and Low Power TVs will be allowed to flash cut without simulcasting. MVPDs must continue to carry ATSC signals but don't have to carry the new 3.0 signals. Broadcasters can combine retrans negotiations for new ATSC 3.0 and existing 1.0 signals, which cable operators had opposed.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.