NBCUniversal hopes advanced broadcast TV launch will ignite NextGen TV

Broadcast TV viewers in some U.S markets will now be able to enjoy a degree of personalization and rewind functionality of NBC channels via NextGen TV, but the launch announced Monday also highlights the lagging rollout of ATSC 3.0.

ATSC 3.0 or NextGen TV combines broadcast with IP to potentially transform linear TV from one-way mass-market to two-way personalized interactive experiences. It is available to 75% of Nielsen households in the United States, according to ATSC.

The intent of the whole NextGen TV project is to elevate over-the-air (OTA) broadcasters on par with online streaming TV competition and boost the prospects of local stations.

Now, six NBCU-owned stations have become the first in the nation to deliver some of these benefits. Viewers can rewind or pause NBC and Telemundo channels in real-time. The channels will also show localized news or weather pop-ups, provide targeted emergency alerts, and offer viewers a selection of on-demand content.

Created in partnership with Fincons, Ease Live (an Evertz company) and Pearl TV, the new functionality includes the ability for viewers to restart programs including the TODAY show.

Pearl TV is a consortium of partners, representing major U.S. broadcasters, and including Google which develops the RUN3TV web platform on which broadcasters can build hybrid TV services.

The return path from ATSC 3.0 tuners enables audience metrics to be used to inform personalized editorial and, in theory, more relevant advertising. Fincons are on board to provide dynamic ad insertion, content promotion and monetization, and real-time audience and monitoring.

The four markets involved in this launch include New York (WNBC, WNJU), Los Angeles (KNBC), Philadelphia (WCAU), and Miami (WTVJ, WSCV), with NBCU promising to deploy the application in “major media markets across the nation”.

NBUC also claims this represents “a significant milestone in realizing NextGen TV’s full potential” but some commentators at have called it “a clear sign of NextGen TV's obscurity.”

That’s because NextGen TV has been heralded as a game changer for terrestrial TV broadcast since launch in 2017, but investment and implementation has been slow.

One reason is that the FCC didn’t mandate the switch as there was from analog NTSC to ATSC 1.0. Another is that the capability within the standard to broadcast 4K has not been taken up. There are no regular UHD broadcasts in the country. This is compounded by the issue of bandwidth. TV stations are only allocated a certain amount of a limited spectrum to broadcast their channel forcing them to trade off multiple HD channels for UHD truck (4K). Additional bandwidth limitations due to how NextGen is rolling out further restrict how much can be used.

A more pressing issue is that encryption (DRM) being added to broadcasts by stations are incompatible with many TVs and tuners. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) went so far as to issue a public letter to the FCC a year saying the transition to NextGen was "in peril" and urging the FCC to take action.

The NAB wrote, "The single biggest factor in the success of this transition is almost completely out of our control - it is up to the consumer electronics industry to build the devices that consumers will use to access our signals. By signalling support for ATSC 3.0 as the future of broadcasting, the Commission can help ensure these devices get built and marketed. In contrast, a lack of support will slow the pace of deployment, and eventually, we may be stuck."

NBCU is at the NAB Show in Las Vegas this week demonstrating its new ATSC 3.0 capabilities while the ATSC itself were touting more than 40 companies showcasing how ATSC 3.0 standards can be applied. It said more than 100 NextGen TV products would be available to consumers this year.

This includes HDR by Technicolor with SDR backwards compatibility and interactive music video broadcast channels powered by ROXi.

ATSC 3.0 broadcasts are being tested in India, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. South Korea, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, are on-air or planning near-term launches.