NAB, FCC launch task force focused on ATSC 3.0

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has launched a new public-private partnership that it says will help ensure a smoother roll-out of the next generation broadcast standard known as ATSC 3.0.

The partnership, called the Future of Television, comes nearly three months after the NAB and other television industry stakeholders urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to form a "task force" that would signal government support for ATSC 3.0 — also known as "NextGen TV" — while addressing some of the pain points associated with the transition from one broadcast standard to the next.

The announcement was made by the FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel during a speech at the NAB Show in Las Vegas on Monday. NAB was one of the organizations pushing Rosenworcel and the FCC to form the task force as far back as January.

"With over 60% of Americans already in range of a NextGen TV signal, we are excited to work closely with all stakeholders, including the FCC, to bring NextGen TV and all of its benefits to all viewers," Curtis LeGeyt, the CEO of NAB, said in a statement on Monday. "We commend the Chairwoman, her staff and the Media Bureau for the hard work they have put into making this collaborative effort a reality. NAB and broadcasters will continue to work tirelessly to pave the way for this exciting new technology, which will revolutionize the way viewers consume broadcast content and enable local stations to better serve their communities."

For several years, a consortium of broadcasters operating as a single unit called Pearl TV has been the driving force behind the roll-out and adoption of ATSC 3.0. The group has collaborated on a set standard for ATSC 3.0 host stations (called "lighthouses") that have launched in dozens of markets across the country, as well as marketing and consumer education initiatives for the standard.

Groups that support ATSC 3.0 say the standard will enable a number of new innovations that help broadcasters compete against traditional pay TV platforms and online upstarts, including addressable connected TV advertisement products, targeted messaging, hyperlocal emergency alerts, multichannel audio and improved picture quality. The standard, which includes some Internet Protocol elements, also supports digital rights management, or DRM, which advocates say will help thwart signal piracy.

Still, there are a number of issues associated with ATSC 3.0: Consumers don't seem particularly excited about the new standard. Those who have heard of it don't have very many options in terms of smart TVs and tuners that support NextGen TV. (Last year, the company behind the Tablo line of broadcast recorders issued pre-order refunds for its forthcoming ATSC 3.0-compatible model after running into production issues; a spokesperson said the company is still waiting to receive certification for the device.)

In January, officials at NAB said an FCC task force could help address many of the issues associated with the launch and consumer adoption of ATSC 3.0.

"A task force would put greater focus on the important issues and could draw on expertise from multiple offices and bureaus to attack problems as they arise," the NAB said in a letter sent to Rosenworcel and others at the FCC. "A task force would [also] enable the Commission to more effectively and efficiently focus on our shared concerns about viewers losing access to television signals, among other things."

The Future of Television group that was announced today is effectively the same as the task force desired by those rallying around ATSC 3.0. A spokesperson at NAB said the group will "focus on addressing existing hardware, the technical aspects of executing the transition, and other regulatory issues implicated by the evolution in broadcasting standards."

More information about the Future of Television group is expected to be made available within the next few weeks.