Speaking to a standing room only crowd of broadcasters and electronic media professionals, NAB President Gordon Smith officially opened the 2018 NAB Show by providing a rosy outlook for his constituents. Smith told the audience the NAB had had five recent "wins" for the industry: 1.the adoption by the FCC of voluntary adoption of ATSC 3.0; 2. protection of radio and TV stations from music industry attempts to demand more money from stations who play music; 3. prevented a tax on local broadcasters; 4. worked with the FCC to modernize ownership rules for broadcasters; and 5. getting Congress to allocate $1 billion to reimburse stations' costs during the spectrum repack.
The opening actually began with the feel of an actual "show" as two skaters from Cirque du Soleil performed for the audience before the show was officially opened by Caroline Beasley of the Beasley Media Group.
Smith went on to discuss broadcasting's "bright future" by pointing out that broadcasters are investing in innovations for long term growth; responding positively to changing consumer tastes; working with numerous autonomous car makers to make sure radio (and TV) are prominant in those vehicles; developing ATSC 3.0; and noting the importance of local TV websites to local citizens.
All in all, it was a positive note that Smith sounded even as broadcasters are still trying to find their way in this new 21st century media universe. We'll see if Smith's view and the views of the people he represents are fully in alignment.
NAB 2018 got underway this morning (Saturday 4/7) with a special Global UHD Conference. The morning sessions included a keynote from Dong June Lee of the South Korean national broadcaster KBS. South Korea is the first country to provide regular broadcasts through the ATSC 3.0 set of standards. During 2016 and the first part of 2017, KBS conducted experimental broadcasts using ATSC 3.0. Beginning May 31, 2017, KBS began regular broadcasts using ATSC 3.0 to the Seoul metropolitan area. (For comparison, the U.S. is still in the experimental stage of ATSC 3.0.) By the beginning of this year, KBS had begun regular broadcasts to five major metropolitan areas around Korea - Seoul, Gwangju, Daegu, Daejeong, Busan, Wonju, and Illsan (near Busan). In the next few years, every area of South Korea will be covered by ATSC 3.0. (This is quite a feat, because, despite is small size, South Korea is extremely mountainous.)
At the current time, KBS is focusing on home TV platform delivery of ATSC 3.0. However, it is planning to move to more mobile technologies, first using dongles, then embedded chips in smartphones, tablets, and laptops/notebook computers. (For those of you who remember the broadcasters' failed attempt at Mobile DTV, the dongles and the specialized mobile phones needed to receive the Mobile DTV signal were the kiss of death for the delivery system.) One of the more interesting uses of the early ATSC 3.0 system in Korea was a specialized shuttle bus during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games that had a large television set in the bus playing the ATSC 3.0 signal for riders. The decision showed the possibilities for mobile delivery of ATSC 3.0 to out-of-home devices.
By 2027, KBS plans to have 100% of its programming being delivered using ATSC 3.0 in a UHD format. The company anticipates it will broadcast 1,260 minutes a day (up from 5% and 63 minutes a day last year) and a total of 462,280 minutes a year by 2027 to all platforms, and will provide protection for content producers from intellectual property theft using its UHD CP (UHD Content Protection) software.All in all, Korea is once again showing its abilities to lead the world in technology. The rest of the world will have to catch up.
NAB President Gordon Smith Paints Rosy Future for Broadcasters
The Players, The Viewers, The Money
ATSC 3.0 Still Has a Way to Go
It's interesting - though not surprising - that the second keynote of the morning session of the Global UHD Conference today was about how UHD displays are progressing in the U.S. What makes it interesting is that it immediately followed the keynote by Dong June Lee of the Korean Broadcasting System who spoke on his country's development and implementation of ATSC 3.0. The fact that the Korean keynote was on ATSC 3.0 and the U.S. keynote was about UHD displays underscores the fact of how far behind the U.S. is in the development and implementation of the 3.0 standard.
Mike Bergman of the Consumer Technology Association - the organizers of the Consumer Electronics Show, also held in Las Vegas - did a fine job of covering his topic, given who he was following. Bergman started off showing that even today, television set household penetration is still the highest of consumer technology products, although the smartphone is not far behind (96% to 80%). There are 2.7 television sets per household in the U.S. on average, and each year about one in five adults say they intend to buy a TV set. With more than 300 million TV sets in U.S. homes, that's about 60 million new sets that are being bought - once again, on average.
Bergman also announced that 2018 will be the first year that more than half of all TVs sold will be 4K UHD sets, a milestone in TV development. Further, the growth of 4K UHD television sets in just the few years they have been available far surpasses the growth of HDTVs during their first years. People are ready for the better picture quality. Additionally, in just five years, the cost of a UHD TV set has dropped by more than 80%, also leading to the grow of the business. Bergman's research showed three times a year when UHD sales peaked - November, September, and March. Surprised? You shouldn't be. That's the Christmas buying season, the start of the football season, and the NCAA "March Madness" basketball tournament.
As also might be imagined, the size of the TV set is growing with the 55-59" set growing the fastest and the 65-69" set growing second fastest. Look for the larger set to replace the 55-59" category as the fastest growing as the price of those larger sets continue to drop. Further, Bergman pointed out that 4K and UHD TV sets today are almost completely "smart" sets, bringing the viewer the ability to watch his or her favorite OTT service on the home big screen.Bergman also showed that Blu-ray player sales are still growing if they are UHD, which is surprising to me given the ability to digitally download programs. It will be interesting to see if that changes in the future.
NAB 2018 is only a few hours old and already there is some controversy over the broadcasters' answer to delivering their programming to viewers anywhere and on any device. At the morning sessions of the Global UHD Conference, both Lynn Claudy, Senior Vice President of the NAB and Hossein Hashemzadeh of the FCC provided reasons for again wondering when ATSC 3.0 will become a reality or even IF it will become a reality. According to Hashemzadeh, the roll out of ATSC 3.0 will likely not begin until the end of this year, or 1st Quarter of 2019, a delay of almost two years from the initial expected roll out of the set of standards. He also said that the broadcasters still have more to do before they can begin telecasting using ATSC 3.0. Further - and I do not know if this was just a misspeak or not - but Hashemzadeh continued to refer to the new set of standards as "ATSC 3.1" and not ATSC 3.0, leading one to wonder - if it was not misspeak - if the FCC has a slightly different/upgraded standard in mind. If so, the roll out of ATSC 3.0/3.1(?) could again be delayed.
Claudy's presentation yielded some interesting problems to be considered when thinking about global use of ATSC 3.0. As it turns out, there are a number of different standards designed to accomplish what ATSC 3.0 is for: ATSC 3.0 for the U.S., ATSC 3.0 (but there are differences) for South Korea, DVB/DVT Phase 1 and Phase 2 for Europe, and a fourth system in Japan that is different from the other three. The implication is that the four different standards are not compatible with each other, with Japan already looking forward to broadcasting/telecasting in 8K by the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, while the others are focused still on UHD/4K. The reason that Claudy's presentation raises concerns is that, with four different incompatible advanced television systems available depending on the area of the world, and with the beginnings of global convergence of the television industry (think Altice buying Cablevision and Disney attempting to get Sky and Star TV from Fox), the lack of a single system could also delay any roll out of ATSC 3.0 or even make it disappear in favor of one of the other delivery systems.
Will we ever see ATSC 3.0? Will it ever be all that the U.S. broadcasting industry is hoping/expecting it to be? At this point, the first morning of NABShow 2018, there seems to be reasons to think ATSC 3.0 is in trouble. I'll keep you informed as the convention goes along. It should be very interesting!
If you are a later Gen Xer, a millennial, a Gen Z, or anyone who prefers Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube Red, Sling TV, Sony Vue, or any other streaming service, you had better write your Congressional representative and/or Senator and demand protection from the broadcasters' newest competition to current streaming distribution services. The broadcasters are moving ahead, courtesy of the Ajit Pai-led FCC, with ATSC 3.0, and plan to have it available sometime in the next 12 to 24 months.
You might ask yourself why the concern. After all, ATSC 3.0 will make it possible for you to watch your favorite programs anywhere, anytime, and on any platform through an over-the-air distribution method. It'll even bring all your favorite programs into your homes and to your smart TV. Even better, they'll give it to you for free! What could be better than that?
In case you haven't caught on, there is a major catch to this scenario. Oh, ATSC 3.0 will be available for free to anyone who is willing to use the service. They broadcasters will likely even provide the in-home technology for free as well. Further, ATSC 3.0 chips for mobile phone and tablets are currently being produced with the intent for the broadcast companies to give them away to the mobile phone and tablet makers so those companies will have a major incentive to include them in every phone and tablet that's produced.
In case you didn't read my article from last year and haven't figured out what the catch is yet, here it is: ATSC 3.0 is free! - and that's bad, believe it or not. Because you don't believe free ATSC 3.0 is bad, let me explain further - ATSC 3.0 will be free and every other ISP will be forced out of business because they won't be able to compete with free. Once the broadcasters have driven out all the competitors to ATSC 3.0, they've got you. If you want Internet, you'll have to go to them. See the problem yet?
If they are your only choice for Internet, they will be able to control completely what you watch in terms of your television/video. They will finally have the complete control they haven't had since cable exploded as a competitor in 1975. They will make the decision if you get Netflix or not; get Amazon or not; get Hulu or not; get YouTube or not; etc., etc., etc. Even the networks themselves won't be immune because ATSC 3.0 is designed for local television station control, not networks. CBS makes their local affiliates angry - no CBS All Access; Disney makes its ABC affiliates angry - no ABC streaming, no Disney streaming, no ESPN streaming! Pretty soon U.S. television is four or five broadcast networks delivering their programming through their affiliates, just like in the 1950s and 1960s (except with the addition of FOX).
What's the likelihood of that really happening? Well, when I ask broadcasters and their technology partners they assure me that they "would never do such a thing"! The only problem is they have an ear-to-ear grin that they (barely) try but cannot contain. They know that the viewing public will go along with free until it's too late, and if there is outrage, they can simply turn you off, like a cable, satellite, or ISP can today.What's the possibility this scenario will happen? It will all depend if the broadcasters are successful in rolling out the technology and making it work. As I wrote earlier this week, there are still big hurdles ahead and big headaches. However, if ATSC 3.0 is successfully rolled out, the headaches will be the viewers'. Welcome to the future of television. Four networks controlling all viewing through their local affiliates; unskippable advertising throughout the programs; no more video-on-demand; television, 1960s-style. Yes, it will definitely be "forward to the past" for television. A very scary scenario, to say the least.
ATSC 3.0 - Forward to the Past, 2018 Update
Imagine Sinclair Broadcasting with 200+ television stations across the country. Each station works with a network, but not all 200+ the same network. Each station works with national advertisers and local advertisers - some may overlap while others don't. Further, Sinclair Corporation itself works with certain national advertisers to negotiate rates and locations for those ads to run. All of those different supply chains have to be coordinated in some way. Today, for any major television group, cable network, etc., this coordination is complex, time-consuming, and expensive.
Now, imagine the coordination of all those different supply chains are simplified, quick, and a fraction of the price of today's coordination. Enter blockchain! - but not your cryptocurrency blockchain.
IBM, in conjunction with the Linux Foundation, and approximately 160 partners, is working to develop a form of blockchain that will make supply chain movement efficient and cost-effective. Blockchain is a shared, replicated, permissioned ledger technology. One form of blockchain is the underlying technology powering Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However, the form of blockchain technology that IBM and its partners are developing is different from the form of blockchain powering cryptocurrencies, and there are significant differences. In all blockchains, everyone that is a participant of the blockchain can view everyone else's transactions, but not the person making the transaction. This anonymity plus the fact that all transactions are available to everyone all the time, assures that any changes, frauds, etc., are immediately noticed because the change would occur in one place, but not in all other places. Without concensus, a transaction is not accepted.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are public blockchains. In a public blockchain, it is the transaction that is viewable by all, but the participant identity is extremely difficult to control. It is this participant anonymity that makes public blockchains work. However, the anonymity also makes it possible for criminals to launder money, make payoffs, etc., without being identified. The transactions would be seen by all, but no one would know who is making the transaction.
IBM, the Linux Foundations, and the others are developing what is called Hyperledger Fabric, a type of private blockchain. Like a private cloud, the participants in a private blockchain must first be invited and/or vetted to join the blockchain. Once the private blockchain is established the participant members are known to each other, but the transactions are secret! This is the opposite of the public blockchain. In a private blockchain, it is privacy, not anonymity, that is paramount.
Now, back to the example at the beginning of this article. Sinclair has many TV stations. They work with numerous advertisers and advertising agencies. Those advertisers and ad agencies may or may not also be part of other blockchains with other TV station groups. Sinclair's blockchain allows transactions to move easily and quickly between its stations and corporate, corporate and advertisers/agencies, stations and advertisers/agencies, with everyone knowing who is participating in the transactions, but not the details of the transactions. The private blockchain makes it possible for each transaction to be completed, saving time (transaction time from days to near instantaneous), reducing costs (because time costs, overhead costs, and intermediaries costs are significantly reduced or eliminated completely), and reducing risk (including tampering, fraud, and cybercrime!).
IBM and the consortium members anticipate having early generations of the Hyperledger Fabric private blockchain technology ready to roll out sometime next year. When it is, television monetization will move into an entirely new era within the 21st Century Television universe, and herald an entirely new monetization structure for the television industries.
NAB 2018 - Thoughts Before The Convention
UHD Display Progress in the U.S.
Blockchain For TV? Yes, It's Not Just For Bitcoin Anymore!
21st Century Television
This year's NAB convention has, in my mind, the chance to be a truly pivotal event. For the second year in a row, the theme of the convention is the M.E.T. Effect - the marriage of media, entertainment, and technology. The fact that this is a second consecutive year where the broadcasters are fully acknowledging the role that new technologies play and will play in their future is momentous. In the past, each time the NAB has tried to focus on new media technologies, the next year it has had to retrench and step back from its forward motion.
This time, though, it's different. New and updated technologies are front and center throughout the show. Some 40 different companies will be exhibiting various aspects of ATSC 3.0, the broadcast industry's latest version of "Mobile DTV." (I refer to ATSC 3.0 that way because I am still skeptical that it will ever be successful.) Nevertheless, attendees will have the opportunity to hear about how well ATSC 3.0 is progressing in South Korea - although, to be honest, fully covering South Korea with ATSC 3.0 and fully covering the U.S. are two very different things. Hope spring eternal, it seems, so ATSC 3.0 talk will abound.
Virtual Reality - coming on the heels of NBC's experiment at the Olympic Winter Games and CBS/TBS's use of VR during the most recent NCAA "March Madness" Basketball
Championship - seems poised to become something more than a gamer's delight and everyone else's curiosity. This year there will be a variety of panels and exhibits discussing the different uses of VR in everything from live sporting events to the news room. It's good to see VR being taken seriously.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will also be a major focus of this year's show. AI is a hot commodity leading to the Internet of Things which, if embraced by the broadcasters, could move the industry to the forefront of IoT. It will be interesting to see what will be the position of the broadcasters to machine learning and AI.
We are also seeing major discussions on the future of advertising, with a whole track devoted to advertising in the 21st Century Television universe. Programmatic advertising and dynamic ad insertion will be topics of discussion throughout as broadcasters and all other content providers attempt to come to grips with the need for finding ways to fully monetize OTT and IPTV television.
I'll be reporting from the convention each day with the latest from both the conference panels and all the innovations in hardware and software. It should be a great (possibly historic) NABShow.
NAB 2018 IS UNDERWAY!