NAB panel touts return path data benefits for broadcasters

LAS VEGAS—In an early morning panel discussion at the NAB Show, several ATSC 3.0 experts gathered to discuss benefits for broadcasters, in particular the opportunity to gather return path data.

Panelists included Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair; Winston Caldwell, vice president of spectrum engineering and advanced engineering for 21st Century Fox; John Hoctor, CEO and co-founder of Data + Math; Anne Schelle, managing director for Pearl TV; and Eric Anderson, senior vice president and chief partnership officer for Verance.

Caldwell said Fox is interested in the return channel for its ability to bring information back to broadcasters and to deliver supplemental content like targeted advertising, alternative audio tracks or interactive elements. He said broadcasters will be able to fill in coverage holes by dropping in additional transmitters, similar to how wireless providers use small cells to help build out their coverage without the need for additional cell towers.

Hoctor said he was involved with cable operators in the early days of them bringing back return path data from their cable boxes. He’s currently working with broadcasters as they get ready to receive the same data. He said broadcaster ad sales teams and ad buyers will both eventually be better equipped to sell and buy around those new data sets.

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Aitken said that ATSC 3.0 deployments will pick up across the country in the next year. He said a big reason for the SFN trials in Dallas—which involve Sinclair, Nexstar, Univision, American Tower and Dish Network—is in order to develop and build support for mobile reception. He said Sinclair is interested in gathering viewership data from mobile devices and doing dynamic ad insertion, but that it will require a back channel.

As the Dallas SFN project progresses, Pearl TV’s ATSC 3.0 Phoenix model market is also getting underway. Schelle said the model market is not necessarily about testing technology aspects of ATSC 3.0 but more about exploring emerging business models.

“Now the real hard work will be finding out what are the business opportunities for broadcasters,” Schelle said.