Before we start, let me explain that ATSC 1.0 is the HDTV standard, and defines what you get from HDTV stations over the air and cable. It dates from the last millennium. Resolution currently maxes out at 1080i, which fails to take advantage even the lowest-end HDTVs sold today, which are 1080p (better than 1080i).
Your new 4K TV or computer screen has 4x the resolution and “upscales” the ATSC picture it gets over the air or from cable. But actual 4k video looks better. The main sources for that are the on-demand subscription streaming services, currently led by Netflix. All the sources of video “content” (Disney, Paramount, the TV networks) are headed into the same business, which together are called OTT, for Over The Top.
In other words, broadcast TV is to 4K streaming what AM radio is to FM. (Or what both are to audio streaming and podcasting.)
Pai, who has only been in the job since Jan. 20, wasted no time prioritizing that goal. He has already circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the other commissioners that would allow TV stations to start rolling out the ATSC 3.0 advanced TV transmission standard on a voluntary basis. He hopes to issue final authorization for the new standard by the end of the year, he said in an op ed in B&C explaining the importance of the initiative.
“Next Gen TV matters because it will let broadcasters offer much better services in a variety of ways,” Pai wrote. “Picture quality will improve with 4K transmissions. Accurate sound localization and customizable sound mixes will produce an immersive audio experience. Broadcasters will be able to provide advanced emergency alerts with more information, more tailored to a viewer’s particular location. Enhanced personalization and interactivity will enable better audience measurement, which in turn will make for higher-quality advertising—ads relevant to you and that you actually might want to see. Perhaps most significantly, consumers will easily be able to watch over-the-air programming on mobile devices.”
Three questions here.
- Re: personalization, will broadcasters and advertisers agree to our terms rather than vice versa? Term #1: #NoStalking. So far, I doubt it. (Not that the streamers are ready either, but they’re more likely to listen.)
- How does this square with the Incentive Auction, which—if it succeeds—will make over-the-air (OTA) TV little more than a requirement for “must-carry” on cable?
- What will this do for (or against) cable and satellite TV, which is having a helluva time wedging too many channels into its available capacities already, and do it by compressing the crap out of everything, filling the screen with artifacts (those sections of skin or ball fields that look plaid or pixelated)?
Personally, I think both over the air and cable TV are dead horses walking, and ATSC 3.0 won’t save them. We’ll still have cable, but will use it mostly to watch and interact with streams, many of which will come from producers and distributors that were Net-native in the first place.
But I could be wrong about any or all of this. Either way (or however), tell me how.
[Update on 9 April 2022…] All the antennas flanking the art deco face of the Empire State Building are now removed. So are the T-shaped antennas above and below the 102nd floor observation level, to make room for taller windows. The “rototiller” FM antenna is gone, along with some of the antennas above it. Some of those have been replaced. The long-abandoned channel 4 and 5 “batwing” antenna at the very top remains, serving by default a decorative purpose. Meanwhile a fence of taller buildings have gone up along 57th Street to the north between Broadway and Park Avenue, no doubt affecting signal from the Empire State Building to some degree. But caring about that is on the decline, as listening and viewing continues drifting from live broadcasts to streams and podcasts accessed on demand, over the Net rather than over the air.