What's Next for Over-the-Air Broadcasting? Re-Purposed Spectrum and OTT Alone?

By Paul Maxwell Report Archives
Cover image for  article: What's Next for Over-the-Air Broadcasting? Re-Purposed Spectrum and OTT Alone?

Here are the key facts to consider about the broadcasters:

1) Broadcast stations use - for FREE - a huge swath of very valuable spectrum.

2) Their business model relies primarily on licensed content such as a network affiliate and/or syndicated shows along with a very few hours of local news and locally sourced information.

So far so good. But now consider this:

3) The broadcast networks are now busily birthing new streams such as CBS All Access and Peacock. These streams use broadband spectrum, not the spectrum in the air.

Which means, in short, these networks are now competing with themselves. That might work nationally, but it won't work as easily locally. Which makes we wonder why Sinclair, Scripps and other station groups keep adding stations.

So what's a broadcaster to do?

I doubt it'll be more of the same.

So, just think of the multitude of uses for all of that redundant spectrum! The classic cable bundle is not far from getting its last rites. When that happens, just think of what goes away: retransmission consent fees! More smart antennas. What happens to the loss of all of those paying, classic cable subs? Just networks over the air again?

I doubt that. I even wonder about over the air at all … unless the market is big enough to be fully local news coupled with information in context on the air … which raises the question of language: what is "air"? Even folks at what once were called cable networks talk about being "on the air."

After all, thanks to offerings like YouTube TV, Sling and more, now over the air broadcasters have found another way to get to viewers via streaming backed up with virtual video storage and access … including our home.

All of this thinking out loud is just that. For the spectrum to become available, robust broadband would need to be truly ubiquitous reaching every video and computer device via licensed spectrum better than 5G and fiber. Not to mention claims of "pay for the spectrum" from broadcasters. An expensive, long term project … which, I firmly believe, will slowly and inexorably happen.

The media news and entertainment universes are all going to occupy the same ubiquitous digital space … in 10G, I'll bet.

Print will exist only as a specialty … a medium that can be static, albeit pretty cool in the form of books, magazines, billboards (the non-digital ones) and more.

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