Sinclair Broadcast sees ATSC 3.0 NEXTGEN TV as entrée to streaming, new revenues

At Fierce Video's Stream TV Show earlier this summer Scott Ehrlich, chief innovation officer with Sinclair Broadcast, talked about the possibilities that ATSC 3.0 — commercially known as NEXTGEN TV — would offer to broadcasters.

But why would a broadcaster want to attend the StreamTV Show in the first place? Streaming and broadcasting have historically been two distinctly different ecosystems.

Speaking with Fierce Video last week, Ehrlich said that broadcasters are excited about NEXTGEN TV because it will give them some of the benefits of streaming (a one-to-one interaction with a viewer) while retaining the benefits of broadcasting (a one-to-many blast to viewers).

He said, “Streaming is just moving video over IP. If 3.0 is bringing internet protocol to broadcast, it’s essentially bringing broadcast into streaming.”

In addition, one of the most exciting things for broadcasters about NEXTGEN TV is that it will allow them to do new and interesting things with their spectrum, possibly even competing with the wireless carriers in some areas.

But before we get to that, a little background on NEXTGEN TV is necessary.

ATSC 3.0 is the next evolution

Sasha Javid, chief operating officer with BitPath, said ATSC 3.0 is the next generation of the TV standard ATSC 1.0. In order to make the leap to NEXTGEN TV, there will need to be enough television sets in the market to handle ATSC 3.0. In the meantime, broadcasters that want to move forward must simulcast 1.0 and 3.0 signals. They’re doing this by finding fellow broadcasters to partner with, sharing each other’s spectrum so that they can each broadcast some channels in 1.0 and some in 3.0. “That way people with new TVs can get 3.0, and those without new TVs can still get ABC or NBC or whatever with 1.0 technology,” said Javid. “BitPath has been acting as a dating coach to help find stations willing to host and share 1.0 and 3.0.”

Javid said from a legal perspective, the simulcast requirements will end next summer, but from a practical perspective, there just aren’t enough TV sets that support 3.0 yet, and it will probably take a couple more years before broadcasters can fully flip to NEXTGEN TV.

Benefits for people with 3.0-capable TV sets include better picture quality and better sound. And the technology will enable a much more robust public safety channel. In addition to broadcasting emergency alerts for such things as fire or hurricane warnings, broadcasters also will be able to use the internet to send alerts to specific areas or to provide interactive maps.

From the broadcasters' perspective, they’re looking forward new revenue opportunities from NEXTGEN TV such as implementing internet apps that can be used in conjunction with broadcast programming. Some examples would be enabling sports betting on broadcast TV or the ability for viewers to order a product that they just saw advertised on TV.

“The big thing is really this ability that you have IP broadcast where you can mix an over-the-air signal with a back channel to the internet,” said Javid.


But one benefit broadcasters will have that hasn’t been mentioned that much is that NEXTGEN TV will allow them to tap their spectrum for other things — including things that aren’t even related to TV.

First, 3.0 will allow broadcasters to increase the number of channels on a broadcast stick. Instead of having 4-5 channels, such as 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 etc., they might be able to have 9 or 10 channels on a stick. Sinclair’s Erhlich said they might even see a 5x increase in the number of channels on a stick. Or, they could use some of their extra capacity to dedicate some channels to 4K broadcasts.

But more exciting than that, broadcasters are thinking about how ATSC 3.0 will allow new uses of their spectrum.

According to Javid, broadcasters use the 500 MHz UHF spectrum. He noted that some wireless carriers in the U.S. use 600 MHz spectrum, and the 500 MHz band has “all the advantages of 600, and then some, with excellent propagation.”

He said because using wireless spectrum is not the core business of broadcasters, it’s something they can use for new applications, “price aggressively and not take away from their core business.”

“If it was just about video, they’d be interested in 3.0,” said Javid. “Where they really get excited is the data side of things: emergency alerts and sports betting and interactive TV. "

Sinclair Broadcast

Sinclair’s Erhlich said a lot of what 3.0 is about is using spectrum more efficiently. “At a high level it’s not that different than what the wireless guys do,” he said. And he agreed with Javid that NEXTGEN TV opens the prospect of new business models for other things that aren’t actually part of the video business at all, such as enhanced GPS.

Sinclair and BitPath have both been working on GPS. On the Bitpath side, it recently announced a broadcast GPS augmentation service that will provide better accuracy for drones, eScooters, and apps like Uber and Lyft. 

Javid summed it up best, “Broadcasters will have additional capacity – using their spectrum — it won’t have anything to do with TV.”

And of the overall transition to ATSC 3.0, Ehrlich said, “The change to NEXTGEN opens up all these new business models for broadcasting, which has been managing decline rather than growing. There’s motivation on the broadcasting side.”