Deeper Dive—What’s next now that NEXTGEN TV is live?

NEXTGEN TV – a new enhanced standard for broadcast television – finally went live this week in Las Vegas after years of development.

One of the key organizations behind NEXTGEN TV – which is the commercial name given to ATSC 3.0 – is ONE Media, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group. ONE Media has been focused on solving the technical and business challenges with launching the new standard. So, President Mark Aitken and Jerry Fritz, executive vice president of strategic and legal affairs at ONE Media, both had reason to celebrate the recent launch of the first four NEXTGEN TV stations.

The next NEXTGEN TV stations will launch in Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City in the middle of June, followed a week later by Nashville. More launches are planned throughout 2020 and another 18 markets are planned to launch in 2021.

Despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Aitken said that all parties involved – which includes Nexstar Media, E.W. Scripps, Pearl TV and BitPath (formerly Spectrum Co) – were able to remotely facilitate the launches in Las Vegas without anyone having to travel. Now, with the seal officially broken on NEXTGEN TV, ONE Media is focusing on what comes next.

Aitken said one of the first priorities is making sure all the consumers are doing the rescan. Sinclair’s NBC station in Las Vegas has physically changed its channel so consumers will need to know where to go to continue following the station.

Once people are tuned in, NEXTGEN TV will mean viewers with compatible equipment can begin receiving over-the-air broadcasts with improved audio and video quality (4K) along with interoperability with Internet-delivered content. It also means stations can now begin layering in features and services that were not previously possible. Aitken said that will include in-band notifications within the user interface that are targeted and personalized based on viewer information, location and other factors.

NEXTGEN TV’s more efficient use of broadcast spectrum has also opened up the ability for broadcasters to collaborate with other communications providers and Aitken said interest has ramped up now that it’s live. He couldn’t name specific companies but he did say a large wireless carrier wants to work with broadcasters on new services for consumers and he also said that development is underway on smartphones that support ATSC 3.0. ONE Media partner Saankhya Labs has already developed a commercial mobile chipset to support NEXTGEN TV reception.

Fritz said that broadcasters will now be able to use audience targeting for advertising, more localized programming and more precise emergency alerts. However, he said what might be most beneficial about ATSC 3.0 is the non-television data applications, which he said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr recently highlighted. Carr said applications including autonomous vehicles, IoT, smart agriculture and telemedicine could all benefit from this new nationwide 25 Mbps data stream, which he called “broadcast internet.”

“One of the great things we’re working on right now is this confluence of broadcast and broadband so that in a television world, the user doesn’t know if he or she is getting video from over-the-air or over-the-top,” said Fritz. “It’s that type of data services for the television side and all kinds of B2B applications on the data side that we’re so enamored with.”