ATSC 3.0: OTA meets OTT

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When ATSC 1.0 – the first digital and high-definition standard for over-the-air broadcast in North America – was published in the mid-1990s, cell phones were the size of cement blocks and broadband meant an ISDN connection running at a whopping 128 kbps!

Over the next quarter century, cell phones became smaller and smarter and started talking to the Internet over both Wi-Fi networks as well as newer generations of cellular networks with much greater bandwidth. Today, we use our cell phones to listen to music, share photos, do our banking … and even watch TV and stream our favorite movies and TV series. Concurrently, our TVs became smarter, larger and flatter and enabled us to take advantage of an explosion in over the top (OTT) TV and VOD service offerings.

So what does all this have to do with ATSC 3.0?

Actually, a lot. Because ATSC 3.0 promises to revolutionize broadcast TV by leveraging a quarter of a century of technological advances plus a few additional innovations.

Recently I had the privilege to be on a panel discussion at Streaming Media Connect, called “ATSC 3.0: OTA Meets OTT”. My fellow speakers were Madeleine Noland, President of Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC), Todd Achilles, CEO of Evoca TV, and Jim DeChant, VP Technology at News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting. The key take-away? ATSC 3.0 means you can have it all: the incredible efficiency of broadcasting AND the flexibility and personalization of OTT.

ATSC 3.0 is based on the Internet Protocol. It can deliver bits over both the Internet and over the air. So you have the best of both worlds: the scale and efficiency of broadcast and the infinite possibilities of broadband by personalizing the stream in the last mile.

But what exactly are these new possibilities? What will the future of broadcast TV look like?

In the panel, we identified three areas where we expect significant changes:

  1. Superior quality

Image quality can be enhanced without the wasted bandwidth of simulcasting the same content at different resolutions: one for devices that can handle UHD and one for devices that can’t. How? In ATSC 3.0, the HD stream is sent to everyone, and a parallel stream only includes the enhancements needed to turn it to UHD. But superior quality goes beyond video. With ATSC 3.0, you get better audio, too. The viewer can be immersed in a surround-sound, 3D audio experience. Even better, instead of a sound engineer choosing which audio streams to deliver (e.g. the stadium sounds or the commentary), ATSC 3.0 means that viewers can receive all audio streams – and then choose what they want to hear.

  1. Personalization

Both content and ads can be replaced in ATSC 3.0 streams. So viewers who choose to share their preferences and location could get a personalized channel, showing only content they want to see – e.g. the local weather, local traffic conditions, favorite sports games, favorite shows. They can get ads that are targeted to their needs – local pizza places if they’re feeling hungry, for example. And they can get alerts based on their location – if a tornado is threatening them, for example.

  1. Flash channels

What if some viewers want to see their favorite show, which always starts at the same time, while others want to see the extra innings of a long-drawn-out baseball game that’s going on at the same time? ATSC 3.0 enables flash channels: create an extra, temporary channel to cater to these conflicting needs. It’s no longer either/or but both/and.

ATSC 3.0 uses technologies that are as close as possible to web technologies. No new skill set is needed to develop apps for ATSC 3.0.

What does this all mean? That the new possibilities enabled by ATSC 3.0 are yet to be discovered. What would be the next Airbnb app for ATSC 3.0? I can only wonder as to what will be in store for the next quarter of a century and what the next generation of innovators will dazzle us with.