Heavy lobbying efforts by the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) to convince the Federal Communications Commission to help accelerate national adoption of ATSC 3.0/NextGen TV has paid off.
In a speech at NAB’s annual conference on Monday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a new public-private partnership dubbed “the Future of Television,” which aims to ensure a smooth transition to the new digital broadcasting standard for broadcasters, associated industries and the public.
The initiative, led by NAB, will have three working groups focused on existing hardware, the technical aspects of executing the transition, and other regulatory issues around the evolution in broadcasting standards. The groups, to be formed in the coming weeks, will include representatives from industry, government and public interest stakeholders.
The federal government required television stations to switch from analog signals to digital signals a decade ago, but stations have not been required to upgrade from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.
Lobbying efforts began at least seven years ago, with a joint petition to the FCC from broadcasters and the consumer electronics industry asking the agency to start a voluntary transition to the new standard.
Large television-owning media companies including Nexstar, Hearst, TEGNA. Cox, Gray, E.W. Scripps, Graham and Sinclair have invested in the necessary equipment and cooperated to advance NextGen TV as part of a consortium called Pearl TV, with long-term paybacks in mind including the audience-building benefits of being able to transmit ultra-high definition (UHD/4K) video signals capable of providing high-quality video and theater-caliber sound, interactive programming and mobile reception.
NextGen-equipped smart TVs and other connected devices could also be used for targeted advertising, encrypted pay-TV signals and hyper-local community emergency alerts.
But competition from streaming TV is now threatening to preempt the commercial viability of ATSC 3.0.
And while more than 60% of Americans are now within range of an ATSC 3.0 signal, infrastructure and other challenges have slowed implementation of 3.0 by broadcasters.
Broadcasters aren’t currently transmitting in 4K. Most are simulcasting their current high-definition signals to a few stations in key markets, as they await levels of ownership of NextGen-enabled TV sets — or upgraded set-top boxes or converters or dongles — to reach levels sufficient to justify rolling out the more advanced capabilities.
While some major OEMs have begun producing higher-end TVs that can receive ATSC 3.0 signals, budget TV makers have found the costs too high to incorporate the capability.
One key objective of the new initiative is ensuring that consumers, who may not be eager to spend money on an upgraded TV or conversion equipment, don’t lose access to local TV due to the standards transition.
In February, NAB officials sent Rosenworcel a letter proposing that the FCC establish a dedicated task force that would set deadlines of between six and 12 months for various key initiatives, including establishing a mandatory cutoff period for broadcasters to move to ATSC 3.0, authorizing use of ATSC 3.0 compression standards to allow broadcasters to use freed-up radio spectrum for other purposes, and encouraging development and sales of consumer TVs and devices that include ATSC 3.0 tuners.
Earlier this month, the NAB got support from a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, in the form of a letter to the FCC urging the agency to take an active role in expediting adoption of the standard.