Jim Kutzner

As broadcasters look for ways to reinvent their businesses, one of this year’s Technology Leader Award winners is playing a central role in two key initiatives that could shape the future of television.

Jim Kutzner is helping drive standards and practices for mobile video delivery and the mobile DTV emergency alert system. The former revolves around the idea that broadcast TV’s future lies in mobility—using part of the existing broadcast spectrum to deliver video not only to the home but also to smartphones, tablets and even cars.

Kutzner was an early proponent of mobile digital-TV broadcasts and has been working with the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) since its launch in 2007. He is vice-chair of the OMVC Technology Advisory Group.

OMVC’s work played a key role in the approval of the A/153 ATSC Mobile-DTV Standard in October 2009 by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ASTC). Two other industry consortia, the Mobile Content Venture and the Mobile500 Alliance, are planning to use that standard to launch mobile digital TV services this year.

Kutzner has also been working with three public TV stations to test the use of mobile-DTV signals to provide emergency alerts. As part of that effort, cofounded by LG and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the team has also been putting together suggestions for changing the ATSC mobile DTV standard to better handle those alerts.

Similar alerts were critical in conveying vital information in Japan during last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the development of mobile-DTV alerting technologies in the U.S. could encourage more consumers and stations to adopt mobile-DTV technologies.

Kutzner has been pivotal in the creation of ATSC 3.0, an ambitious effort to create a next-generation standard for digital broadcasting. The work on ATSC 3.0 will take years to complete and raises a number of thorny issues, including the type of business models that broadcasters might want to pursue in the future. Kutzner’s ATSC 3.0 industry committee will have to develop technologies to enable those business models and, at the same time, come up with a standard that is financially feasible to implement.

That requirement is particularly important because ATSC 3.0 won’t be compatible with the ATSC 1.0 currently being used, or the upcoming 2.0 version. While this will allow the next-generation standard to enable a number of new businesses, it will also require major changes in broadcast infrastructures and will have to deal with whatever regulatory changes are made to broadcast spectrum.

“To make this work we will have to meld the technology, business and regulatory environments,” Kutzner says. “But because of the acceleration of technology, we can’t stand still. If the broadcast industry wants to survive the growing competition and remain relevant, we need to change.”

Kutzner comes to this work from decades of broadcast engineering experience, beginning in 1973 at Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA/KTCI-TV). He worked at PBS from 1990 to 1993 and then rejoined the organization full time in 2001, holding the chief engineer title from 2003 to 2010, when he assumed his current position.

He has been active on industry committees for new standards and technologies since the early 1990s. “I’ve always been looking forward with technology,” Kutzner says. “Even when I started in operations in the 1970s, I was always the guy who was building something or designing something.”