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ATSC 3.0 could revolutionize OTA television, but only for broadcasters who are ready

By Michael Darer | Jul 17, 2020

Recently, we took a long look at the state of 5G, and the excitement surrounding its widespread deployment. Per many in the industry, this new technology will not only allow for advancements in remote production and content distribution, but will also empower media organizations to adopt increasingly modern media formats and solutions, perhaps expediting the adoption of 4K, 8K, VR, AR, and more. But 5G isn’t the only technology on the horizon that promises to increase bandwidth and drive M&E enterprises into the future of production and broadcasting. Though discussed less commercially, ATSC 3.0 is making headway in the industry, and evangelists want you to know you should be paying attention.

What is ATSC 3.0?

On the most basic level, ATSC 3.0 is a new broadcast transmission version from the Advanced Television Systems Committee — previously dubbed NextGen TV— which is a new standard that Station Groups are beginning to incorporate for their over-the-air (OTA) workflows. Not only does it promise to increase OTA bandwidth, but conversations around how it will upgrade television antennas have suggested that its ultimate impact could reach well beyond basic cable. Still, the majority of the discussion about ATSC 3.0 remains centered around broadcasters.

Diving a little deeper into what ATSC 3.0 would actually do, requires some knowledge about the current state of OTA broadcasting. As it stands, typical transmissions open up enough bandwidth for a given station to transmit three or four channels. Each of these channels usually consists of a primary HD channel, and a few SD subchannels. However, with ATSC 1.0 (the most common standard of transmission at the moment), picture quality could max out at 1080i, and if a broadcaster opted to use that picture quality on a main channel, it would greatly diminish and limit the available quality and amount of subchannels, which often proved to be more valuable. In short, both the volume and the quality of the content a station can create is held hostage by the tight restrictions on their current transmissions.

With ATSC 3.0’s upgrades, these stations cannot only create a considerably greater amount of subchannels, but are also able to experiment with 4K, HDR, and perhaps even 8K files. As file sizes grow and streaming increases consumer expectations about media quality and availability, a station being able to create and transmit programming with these features is critical to retaining viewership, and — with it — advertising revenue. When it comes to the latter, the ability to open up a larger number of channels is also an incredible boon.

Beyond broadcasting

As previously mentioned, the main application for ATSC 3.0 at the moment is television, but the ideas many have about other ways the technology could be leveraged only stoke further excitement. Perhaps the most ambitious fantasy comes from the auto industry with car manufacturers discussing ATSC 3.0 as the key to perfecting driverless automation within their vehicles. Even without that, ATSC 3.0 could still impact advancements in GPS technology and even customized in-car advertisements that use geo-location data to remain consistently current. While we may not all want to have our Volvo tell us that the Macy’s we just passed is having a sale, the imagination that many have put into what an ATSC 3.0 future looks like is nothing to balk at.

Perhaps a more modest vision takes the standard view of ATSC 3.0 and transposes it onto other devices that we don’t typically associate with OTA content. As 4K and (eventually) 8K become the expectation, expanding bandwidth to phones, tablets, and more is going to be vital to fulfilling the promises made by these formats.

Signiant, and the production impact of ATSC 3.0

This leads to another consideration that broadcasters and television stations will have to look at as ATSC 3.0 begins to make its mark: producing the high-quality content that they’ll be broadcasting. As more and more audiences are told that they can expect top-notch resolutions broadcast directly into their homes, that ATSC 3.0 is going to give them the best of the best, broadcasters will have to actually deliver this content.

While ATSC 3.0 is great for broadcasting these massive formats to homes, modern software will be required when it comes to moving the necessary files over the course of producing 4K or 8K programming. With accelerated file transfer solutions that allow broadcasters and post-production teams to effectively collaborate on their new high-resolution shows, managing these massive files is easier than ever before. This also makes broadcasters more appealing to advertisers, who may want to have their ads seen in the best resolution possible.

As such, moving content between personnel prior to broadcast will demand transfer tools that can actually manage gigantic files under tight deadlines. The alternative threatens to cost broadcasters money and viewership.

When our industry discusses the potential of upgrades like ATSC 3.0, it’s important to remember that we’re also raising the bar on ourselves. If we announce new technology that allows us to more easily broadcast extremely high-res content, we will be expected to do so. This means that with every ATSC 3.0 or 5G, the stakes of production heighten. It’s this very reality that keeps M&E innovating, and drives organizations to look for the solutions that will allow them to actually take advantage of the latest advances.

With ATSC 3.0 on the horizon, and workflows about to be disrupted to support it, it’s probably time to talk to Signiant.

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