ATSC's Annual Meeting Confronts Advertising and Audience Measurement

The broadcast engineers (who constituted most of the audience) at the annual Advanced Television Systems Committee meeting in Washington last week (May 23-24) heard something they rarely encounter: the role of advertising and audience measurement in the imminent rollout of the NextGen TV (also known as the ATSC 3.0 format). Although their "Road to ATSC 3.0" conference in Washington, D.C., began with updates from a half-dozen field field trials now underway, a new feature of the agenda focused on how the Internet-Protocol technology of NextGen TV can be used for advanced audience tracking and use by broadcast advertisers for targeted marketing akin to what is done on today's broadband and wireless digital platforms.

"Everything is addressable," proclaimed Harold Geller, executive director and Chief Growth Officer of Advertising Digital Identification LLC (Ad-ID), a joint venture of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers. "We have an opportunity to change the process that has been used in broadcasting since its beginning," he said, emphasizing NextGen TV's ability to personalize advertising thanks to its convergence of content identification and advertising ID.

Several of the speakers focused on audio watermarking: inaudible signals that cannot be heard by viewers but which trigger specific on-screen messages. Initially, this approach is being used in two-screen experiences, said Chris Lennon, president/CEO of MediAnswers and a former Standards Director of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Lennon described an ad campaign for condoms in which the online component was "more risqué" than would have been permitted on broadcast TV and also more focused on a e-commerce transaction. He emphasized that the 3.0 features enable greater measurement of the ad impact, which is what marketers expect in the digital era.

Dr. Joe Winograd, co-founder/chief technology officer of Verance Corp., another audio watermarking provider, also extolled 3.0's ability to "reach parity with other digital platforms and enable cross-platform capabilities." He called the hybrid broadcast/broadband approach a much-needed "return path for universal interoperability."

Audience research firms are deep into their efforts to exploit such capabilities, including development of systems such as TAXI (Trackable Asset Cross-platform Identification), which is based on the expected industry-wide support of an open audio-watermarking system for identifying entertainment and advertising assets across platforms. Stephen Davis, global product director at KantarMedia, described the "TAXI Complete" system, which is tied to the OBID (Open Binding of IDs) that focuses on multiplatform audience measurement. Arun Ramaswamy, chief engineer at Nielsen, said that these advanced content and advertising identification systems, along with other "measurement innovations" that his company is developing, should be married to watermarking and fingerprinting technologies to create accurate footprints of customers' entire marketing and purchasing process.

Although the conference took place on the days just prior to the debut of Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - which generated extensive anguish elsewhere in the marketing world during the week - the ATSC measurement/engineering panel avoided any discussion of privacy protection or other security implications. Their mission was to focus on enabling technology, introducing the advanced capabilities with the goal of making sure the systems are ready as NextGen TV channels light up in coming years.

Encouraging Words from TvB and Field Trials

Abby Auerbach, executive vice president and chief communications officer of the Television Bureau of Advertising (TvB), followed the measurement engineers on-stage, with a litany of data points about the value of TV advertising vis-à-vis cable and online systems. She included an endorsement of advanced advertising capabilities - especially targeting and personalization - in the 3.0 format, calling "NextGen TV the next shiny new thing" that will appeal to advertisers.

"We want to make sure digital is measured accurately," she added, hinting at suspicions about some claims by online sites about their actual advertising reach.

In addition to the advertising and measurement sessions, the ATSC conference audience heard a heady array of progress reports and forecasts.

National Association of Broadcasters chief technology officer Sam Matheny keynoted the program with an advisory that broadcasters "must now move" from 3.0 planning (which has been underway for five years) "into reality." Acknowledging the current extensive testing, Matheny said, "We can't test what hasn't been built yet," urging more providers to join the field trials.

"We're going to put substantial resource" into 3.0, he said. "We need investment, testing and a mechanism to get to conformance."

Following Matheny's keynote, executives from the Pearl TV (a consortium of TV station owners), Sinclair Broadcasting Group, Capitol Broadcasting, NAB and public broadcasting delivered a series of "Reports from the Road," summarizing the findings of their NextGen TV trials, which have been underway since early this year. Their field trials have sought to determine accessibility via mobile receivers, integration with cable TV and content protection.

Among the curious SNAFUs encountered: Pearl TV managing director Anne Schelle said that for the Phoenix, Arizona, trial involving about a dozen local stations, the group tried to get the FCC to approve the test as the first 3.0 commercial license, following recent adoption of the standard. But, Schelle said, "The FCC doesn't have forms ready to authorize 3.0 commercial service." She explained that the Phoenix test, which transmits from two TV towers, is collaborating with the local Cox Cable system and is aiming towards consumer availability by the end of 2020. The channels will simulcast ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 formats for the first five year.

"Single Frequency Network" was at the core of the report from Mark Aitken, Sinclair's VP-Advanced Technology, who described his company's Dallas 3.0 test which, he said, is focused on automotive, mobile handheld and home gateway features.

"The home gateway is the most important piece that has to be developed," Aitken insisted.

NAB Senior VP-Technology Lynn Claudy described the test on a Tribune Co. channel in Cleveland, Ohio, which is currently in early stages of system integration and multiple software versions.

Three of ATSC's "Implementation Teams" also provided updates on their projects, none of which have specific target completion dates. For example, David Siegler VP-Technical Operations for Cox Media Group, acknowledged that the Personalization and Interactivity team has changed directions as new features become available, and "we don't yet know where this will lead us."

Offering an overview of the evolving media world, Dr. Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, put broadcasting - for which he has high expectations - into the context of the current upheaval in the media world. Cole predicted that after the current flurry of cord-cutting and cord-shaving, multichannel video subscriptions will "bottom out at about 62% of homes." As remaining customers then spend about $40 to $50 per month for some collection of four or five streaming channels (such as Netflix, Hulu, ESPN/Disney or HBO), "That's where broadcast TV benefits," he said.

Cole also foresees an overhaul in the studio/distribution infrastructure. Acknowledging regulatory twists that may affect his scenario, Cole nonetheless expects that three "super studios" will dominate the scene with production and distribution capacity: AT&T/Time Warner, Disney/Fox and NBCUniversal/Comcast. He considers Viacom/Paramount "much too small" and believes "there is no way that" Sony/Columbia Pictures "can survive in its current status." But he offered no forecasts of how those companies will merge or be revamped for the new digital landscape.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.