Sinclair Sets Its ATSC 3.0 Goal Posts

By Sinclair Broadcast Group InSites Archives
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The way Louis Libin details what ATSC 3.0 (Advanced Transmission Standards Committee) can do for his company and the television industry overall, you sense his Christmas wish lists for this year, next year and a few years forthcoming has been granted to the max.

Libin serves as Senior Director of New Technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest TV station owner in the nation.  More than 190 stations operate through Sinclair now, and that wide swath will exceed 200 when a pending merger with Tribune Media clears regulatory authorities.  ATSC 3.0 is the upgraded broadcast transmission process approved by the Federal Communications Commission last month.  Sinclair has been a leading advocate of ATSC 3.0's adoption all along, and now that the adoption can happen, Libin and the rest of his company's management are operating at full speed to generate a variety of ATSC 3.0-delivered services for the public.

This dramatic move from ATSC 1.0, the transmission format station owners now deploy, "will provide broadcasters with a brand-new opportunity to address and then grow the local TV station market audience," Libin said.  "The business models for ATSC 3.0 are completely flexible; the standard is now an IP (Internet Protocol)-based standard, which means that ATSC 3.0 is now connected to the internet for TV and data services.  Television stations now need to familiarize themselves with the capital costs of the transition; they can use the estimate of just about $500,000 per station."  That expenditure, he adds, assumes no post-auction channel government reimbursement.

In earlier pubic statements and published interviews, Sinclair suggested a number of new ventures to launch on the local or national level using ATSC 3.0.  They include producing more multicast networks (distributed simultaneously through an expanded digital subcarrier spectrum on each local station and multichannel operators), inserting local/national interactive or personalized commercials and transmitting content directly to smart TV sets, TV-connected devices and mobile phones.  To implement all that and more in a smooth, consumer-friendly fashion, the company has created a set of six goals (see below) for any 3.0 project undertaken.

  • Maintain the audience.  "This means the transition needs to work flawlessly and the market 'lighthouse station' needs to be designated and well-coordinated," Libin asserted.
  • Increase the audience through new, superior services, both audio and video.  New programming options will be added as required.
  • Develop better audience relationships.  Libin promises real tracking of advertising effectiveness.  "Multiplatform projects and campaigns will be introduced," he said.
  • Expand business model development.  This entails the new broadcasting world ATSC 3.0 generates and a new IP-based standard that allows for both broader content distribution and new data service introduction.
  • Introduce Single Frequency Networks (SFN) -- a 3.0-powered signal transmission pathway that opens the door for direct-to-home mobile content delivery.
  • Grow SFN.  Expansion will lead to upgrades and the ongoing improvement of over-the-air TV service.  This growth "will then lead to seamless integration with mobile and other devices in providing a footprint for wireless data delivery," Libin noted.

With those goals, Libin estimates that Sinclair's stations will have the 3.0 infrastructure operating by the end of 2019, with audiences at some of those stations able to see what can be generated in early 2018.  Additional ad-supported multicast channels will be the initial intent of this ATSC playbook, introduced on a gradual basis.

"Digital revenue will begin to increase as well, as multiplatform rolls out," Libin added.  "This will cause the advertising premium to increase slightly during this period."

Libin invited other station groups to bring an ATSC 3.0 services marketplace along in quick order at last week's TV of Tomorrow Show in New York City.  "This is really exciting. We're moving in the right direction," he told fellow participants on an afternoon panel covering 3.0 post-FCC adoption. "We should approach this as an industry, not just as (separate) organizations.  This will turn TV right where it should be again."

Station groups, such as the ones Mary Ann Halford works with in her role as Senior Advisor of Pearl TV, will seek unique financial arrangements to fuel and speed their ATSC 3.0 implementation.  "This will not become a huge burden (for broadcasters) to carry," she noted during the panel.  Pearl TV is working with Tegna, Hearst, Scripps, Raycom, Cox and other companies on 3.0 rollouts, starting with a launch among Phoenix-area stations, anticipated during the first half of 2018.

Lokita Solutions Chief Executive Officer Chet Dagit expects Sinclair and other station groups will collaborate on a number of ventures where content is offered at the same time through TV stations, smart TV sets/TV-connected devices and mobile.  When it comes to multicast, Dagit estimates that every full-power TV station will be able to offer as many as 15 networks, "more than double what you can do today," he said.  Other panelists agreed with his estimate.

As the implementation process moves along, "we'll see third-party developers (come in and) create unique viewer experiences," added Verance Senior Vice President and Chief Partnership Officer Eric Anderson, a former executive with Samsung's smart-TV business.  "You can create a more robust ecosystem of applications, developers and communities out there."

By 2021, Libin sees ATSC 3.0 triggering a portfolio of new content and service among Sinclair's viewers.  Go five years further out, and stand by for what he labels "a virtualization" of TV networks, whether over-the-air or over digital pipes.  "The same technology that allows someone to post a picture on Facebook around the world will be deployed here," Libin declared.  "That's what coming."

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