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Broadcasters Push Next-Gen Standard in D.C.

Broadcasters want the FCC to act ASAP on their request to let them start rolling out a new, interactive broadcast transmission standard. They see it as key to advancing the flight of viewers from the pay-for-play multichannel video programming distributor model, and they’re pulling out all the stops to see it happen.

While broadcasters say it would be most efficient to let them do that at the same time they are having to make the forced march to new channels as part of the spectrum auction (likely more than 1,000 stations will have to move channels), they say there is another important reason. That one is driven in part by the competition from online video, which the FCC’s auction of spectrum to wireless companies could boost.

The FCC is collecting data on the competitiveness of the video market for its annual exercise in not saying whether or not the marketplace is actually competitive, which irks broadcasters given the agency’s continued reluctance to acknowledge new media’s impact on broadcasting.

In its filing to the commission, the National Association of Broadcasters cited the usual suspects— namely, the regs an FCC majority again refused to lift. Among them: being “hamstrung by a host of analogera regulations,” which are the various media ownership rules, such as duopoly and cross-ownership.

Standards and Practices

The filing also reserved a section for ATSC 3.0. The transmission standard is making progress on the tech side (three specifications were approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee two weeks ago), and the FCC has yet to give the go-ahead for a voluntary launch.

The NAB argues that one of the most important things the FCC can do to promote competition is to approve the next-generation 3.0 standard.

That approval is most pressing, say broadcasters, given the rise in cord-cutters. The association even paints a picture of a post-pay-TV world where the young, lower-income and growing minority populations are “ditching” their “bloated pay-TV packages” for a combination of over-the-top and over-the-air.

The NAB cited figures from market research company GfK: 22% of households with someone 18-34 rely on over-the-air only for their TV, and 38% rely on a combination of OTA and OTT.

Enter broadcasters with a new transmission standard to deliver the interactivity that used to be the exclusive province of pay providers.

ATSC 3.0 has a big fan in FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. In a speech last week in Kansas, Pai said the FCC needs “to act quickly to promote innovation in the broadcast space.” He called for action before the end of the year and final rules by mid-2017.

The office of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had no comment on the status of the petition or a decision.

As the FCC prepares to reduce the amount of spectrum broadcasters get post-auction, ATSC 3.0 would allow them to do more with the spectrum they have left.

In short, said NAB general counsel Rick Kaplan and other execs in a letter to the FCC, next-gen TV represents their future. And as former Washington Redskins coach George Allen used to say, that future is now.

ATSC 3.0 receivers have already been demonstrated and compatible equipment is already out there, the NAB noted.

Broadcasters say they are hamstrung by the lack of permission-less innovation accorded the competition. For example, the NAB points out that Netflix is ramping up 4K content by the end of the year, much of it live. Broadcasters need “a path to that future” if they are to remain viable, the NAB insists. Without it, they say, there will be a 4K divide between those who can afford to pay for hi-def video and those who can’t.

Timing Is Everything

Broadcasters initially wanted an FCC decision on ATSC 3.0 by October. Now they are pushing for a decision on the rollout by the end of the year and final rules on the launch by the end of 2017.

Given that the post-auction repack timetable is more than three years and not starting until 2017, that would allow the two to dovetail.

The FCC did not take ATSC 3.0 into account when planning the repack, but Media Bureau chief Bill Lake suggested that the two could, indeed, come together.

“When it comes time for replacement of ‘like’ with ‘like’ equipment [that will be reimbursed during the repack],” Lake said in response to a question from B&C, “if there is 3.0 equipment available at that time, it can be incorporated into the equipment.”

Broadcasters have said that if the ATSC 3.0 equipment costs more than what they are replacing, they would be willing to pay the difference.


Companies and agencies representing billions of dollars in advertising have joined forces with internet service providers representing billions of dollars of investment in broadband with a ready argument. The beef: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s changes to his broadband privacy proposal are not the advertised pivot toward the Federal Trade Commission’s less-restrictive approach.

ISPs were quick to brand the proposal as opt-in dressed up as data sensitivity.

The Association of National Advertisers initially sounded guardedly optimistic at what the FCC billed as a definite move toward the FTC’s approach, which is to base the protections of user broadband data—opt-in vs. opt out—on the sensitivity of the data.

But after a weekend to look it over, the ANA adjusted its statement last week, and other ad associations—joined by ANA—fired off a letter to the FCC making it clear they did not see it as the sort of regulatory harmonization they were calling for.