Editorial: The Future Is Now

Broadcasters were looking at their future in Las Vegas last week as ATSC 3.0 took center stage during the NAB Show. The vaunted, long-awaited transmission standard could make them interactive, super high-definition, multichannel players in the new digital age.

Broadcasters have asked the FCC for freedom to experiment with ATSC 3.0 market-by-market, simulcasting their content—the new standard is not compatible with current sets—to keep serving viewers as they create a whole new suite of content and possibilities.

That could be a tall order, considering that broadcasters are also going through a spectrum auction-related second digital transition. Their argument, however, is that it makes sense to start the 3.0 remake contemporaneously rather than wait through a years-long repack.

There will almost certainly be a reduction in multicast channels, and their diverse content, after spectrum is relinquished in the auction. But ATSC 3.0 could help compensate by boosting the number of channels remaining broadcasters can offer, something former FCC chair Mignon Clyburn noted at NAB.

Broadcasters have asked the FCC to “allow the next evolutionary leap forward in broadcast television by permitting broadcasters to use this new transmission standard on a voluntary basis.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler rightly drew praise for announcing last week he will put the proposal out for comment by April 30, but that is only a first step.

If the commission that claims to be so focused on innovation and the future of distribution is true to that mandate, and to the “competition, competition, competition” that a strong and vibrant broadcasting business can provide, it will comply.