4/7/2019

21st Century Television

Day one of the NAB convention is in the books, although a better name would be the pre-convention, because the official opening ceremonies and the exhibit floor don't occur and open until Monday. However, for members of the engineering division today was the convention kickoff.


As was expected, the day was dominated by the two major topics of this year's convention - ATSC 3.0 and 5G. Also, as expected, no one had anything but glowing comments regarding ATSC 3.0 and all the different things it is expected to be able to provide to those who subscribe.  One of the most interesting uses of ATSC 3.0 is its ability to provide the information necessary for autonomous automobiles to take their owners to the places they want to go in a safe, protected, and efficient way. Additionally, according to the speakers today, ATSC 3.0 can also provide compartmentalized information in emergency situations so that the right first responders can have the information they need without having the information released to the general public. Third, ATSC 3.0 can deliver targeted advertising as efficiently and cost-effective as other ways of delivering television.


5G was the other big topic and, depending on who was the speaker, 5G is the "new Superman," the "new (bully) kid on the block," a complement to ATSC 3.0, or a competitor to ATSC 3.0.  The major problem according to the speakers today (and there will be many more speakers on the topic of 5G in the days to come) is the question of where on the electromagnetic spectrum 5G will end up. Currently, it is at the upper end of the spectrum, where the wavelengths are so short that a company delivering 5G would have to put cell towers on every light post, the tops of people's homes and businesses, and - who knows - maybe even hang them from trees to be able to provide a continuous signal. While 5G is getting a good tryout in Chicago, most of the country will have to wait a little while for 5G. (More on this in the coming days.)


Tomorrow, engineering will still take center stage, so there will be more discussion of ATSC 3.0 and 5G. I'll keep you informed on all the excitement that is the NAB Show 2019.

4/6/2019

"IP Is Going to Change the World"​

The Players, The Viewers, The Money

4/6/2019

ATSC 3.0 To “Roll Out” in Top 40 Markets in 2020

New York Festivals Honors World's Best TV Programs and Films

4/8/2019

4/10/2019

4/9/2019

Millennials and Gen Z's: Broadcasters,
ATSC 3.0, and the Death of Netflix!

Japan's New 4K/8K TV Service

Day 1 of NAB (Pre)Convention

This morning a broad consortium of local television station groups announced the first major deployment of ATSC 3.0 in the top 40 largest television markets in the U.S. A quick look at the list of participants showed that virtually every major local station group and the owned and operated stations of at least two television networks are participating in the coalition. The time frame for the deployment is by the end of next year.

The deployment of ATSC 3.0 into the Top 40 markets will occur in two phases, beginning with a group of 19 markets ranging in size from the Dallas-Ft. Worth market to the Austin, TX market, including all the large markets that have served as test markets throughout the development phase. Markets including New York City and twenty others will make up the second phase of the rollout.

Brian Markwalter, senior vice president, research and standards at the Consumer Technology Association (the organization behind the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES) said, “We know consumers are excited about all the benefits ATSC 3.0 will deliver. And we expect CES 2020 will feature a wide variety of reception devices - integrated 4K, Ultra HD TVs, gateway receivers, portable devices and more - optimized for reception of Next-Gen TV (ATSC 3.0) signals.

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith was equally effusive. “Broadcasters across America will utilize the advanced capabilities of Next-Gen TV to both delight our audiences with the best entertainment while performing a valuable public service. One of the most compelling features of Next-Gen TV will be the life-saving alerting functions that will give our nation’s first responders the ability to use the broad reach of local television to keep viewers informed during emergencies. Our members’ news departments will come to rely on the advanced capabilities of Next-Gen TV as a resource to forge even stronger connections with the citizens we serve every day.”

No time frame has been given for complete coverage of the U.S., though it should be expected that it will be several years - if not longer - to give the new set of standards the opportunity to be well adopted.

It may be the most important awards ceremony you have never heard of. Last night, the New York Festivals International TV and Film Awards gala honored the best television programs and films from around the world in a variety of categories. Unlike the Academy Awards or the Emmy Awards, which have separate categories for U.S. and international entrants, last night the entrants competed in categories without regard for the country of origin. This "category-only" competition allowed television and filmmakers to be considered only on the merits of their works, and made for a riveting evening.


Winner came from more than 50 countries around the world and ranged from major U.S. organizations such as ESPN, NBC, Fox, and VOA, to major and minor organizations in countries such as South Korea, Norway, China, Venezuela, Russia, Spain, Croatia, and New Zealand.  Many of the entrant categories focused on social and humanitarian issues, although there were categories for comedy, promotions, and even brand image. Additionally, New York Festivals
collaborates with the United Nations to honor programs that focus on global concerns and that best exemplify the aims and ideals of the UN with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) Award. This year's awards went to the Voice of America for "Displaced," NBC News for "Hope & Fury MLK: The Movement and The Media," and Australia's Northern
Pictures "Employable Me."  Noted news personality Greta Van Susteren accepted the award for the VOA and later presented awards in another news-related category.


What also made the awards gala exciting and inspiring to the audience was the fact that a number of the nonfiction winners were from countries and on topics that likely put the organization or the reporters and production teams in personal jeopardy. The winners from Venezuela, Russia, and China, especially, focused in conditions in their countries that most probably did not sit well with the countries' leaders. On the other side, the power of television and film to inspire and bring about social change was on display with moving entries from Sweden, South Korea, and New Zealand, along with a socially-focused comedy from Norway.

Day 2 of the 2019 NAB Show has begun with a bang!  "IP (Internet Protocol) is going to change the world" - so said Andy Cross, President and CTO of NewTek. (You might remember that NewTek was the maker of the world's first high quality, low cost computer graphic and animation hardware, the Video Toaster.) In a "fireside chat" with NAB's Sam Matheny, Cross said that IP is already almost everywhere in the U.S. and most everywhere around the world. He said that today's real standard is IP, and that it is going to be the last standard for video.


Speaking to a roomful of members of the engineering division of the NAB, Cross said that video has become just another form of data, because today, everything is becoming a computer - tablets, smartphones, watches, etc. Today, television stations are using computers and software to produce video that is of the highest production value. Cross said that the cost of the tools for
producing video is becoming cheaper and cheaper, and that, while the high-end equipment prices won't really change, it is the equipment below that price point that the real disruption is and where there is a huge revolution going on.


Cross said that today, the hard part is making video look good across all the different platforms that there are on the market. What looks good on a television set may not look good on a computer screen. What looks good on a computer screen may not look good on a tablet or smartphone screen. Solving the problem of producing high quality video for the multitude of
different aspect ratios is difficult.


Cross finished his talk by pointing out that IP is the "native language of computers."  As such, he said, IP is going to change the world. Ten years from now, Cross said, our world is going to be completely different because of IP.

If there was any question about whether or not 8K television is here, Japan's new service leave no doubt. As it prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, along with seven other commercial television companies, has already begun making it possible for Japanese early adopters to enjoy 8K television everywhere throughout the country.  Using both broadcast satellites (BS) and communication satellites (CS) makes it possible for viewers to enjoy both 8K and 4K television in their homes. (The broadcast satellites can deliver one 8K signal per transponder or three 4K signals, while the communication satellite can deliver
eight 4K signals, but no 8K signals.) Currently, NHK is providing their BS8K signal, the world's highest video quality (according to the speaker) for twelve hours each day (10:00 a.m. - 10:10 p.m.) to viewers throughout the country.


The 4K/8K system uses the latest in encoding as would be expected, using both HEVC and MPEG-4 for their encoding. Additionally, viewers can enjoy their audio in both 22.2 and 5.1 immersive sound. While in this early stage - and also why the system is 4K/8K - the majority of the entertainment programming NHK is delivering is delivered in 4K, and more immersive programs are shot and shown in 8K, the better to demonstrate the quality of the 8K signal.  Further, the new system provides for an updated EPG, higher quality captioning, a specialized data service, and content copyright protection.


Additionally, the 4K/8K television set is currently available to those early adopters in Japan.  Interestingly, it is the Sharp Corporation that is building the sets, not Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, or any of the other major Japanese manufacturers. The sets run from 60" to 80", with the price ranging from a little more than $3,600 for the smallest set, to slightly more than $18,000 for the 80" television set. That price is similar to the new Samsung 8K (only) television set that is available in the U.S. beginning this month. The Sharp system, though, is only available in Japan.


8K is here. 4K has now been shown to be a transitional level of television much as 720p was the transition from SD to full 1080p HDTV. Expect to be purchasing 8K television sets as early as Black Friday and the Christmas holiday season this year, and definitely by 2020.

To start with, a caveat: This is a worst-case scenario, but a reasonably likely one for the future!


As I wrote yesterday, the ATSC 3.0 coalition and the NAB announced that the new system will be rolled out in the nation's Top 40 markets by the end of 2020. The roll out is three years overdue, but, at this point, it looks like ATSC 3.0 will move from the testing phase to the implementation phase. If the implementation is successful, it should scare the living daylights out of anyone who enjoys Netflix, Amazon Video, and any other OTT platform. 


What has been lost in all the announcements (but I managed to get the information from the speakers at the news conference yesterday) is that the system will be provided free to anyone who wants it. You may not even have to sign up for ATSC 3.0 - it's just there, because it is delivered over the air. The only thing you would sign up for is a streaming service - if they will even exist!


Notice the last sentence of the previous paragraph, because, in a later session yesterday, members of the ATSC 3.0 coalition pointed out that there will likely be different "lanes" that will deliver different speeds, but that a company would have to pay to be in the fastest "lane."  You have a website that has little video or little need for high speed lane - you go into the low speed lane. You are Netflix, you will pay for the high speed lane. If you don't, guess what - Netflix will end up in the slow lane and its programs will buffer every five seconds, making Netflix useless.


Here's the thing to pay attention to - the roll out will tout the safety factor and that the service is FREE! Who isn't going to want free high-speed ATSC 3.0 broadband instead of paying Comcast or Spectrum or another ISP each month for the same thing. After all, with ATSC 3.0 the only cost for you is Netflix's fee. Sounds great, right! No one will realize what that means until it's too
late.


You see, the ATSC 3.0 folks also said that Netflix and other OTT channels/services will have to pay carriage fees to the broadcasters who are owning all the "pipes."  For those of you unfamiliar with carriage fees, those are the fees that channels will have to pay the broadcasters who will now own the delivery system that everyone is using because it's free. Additionally, the U.S. is
proposing to the International Telecommunications Union, a worldwide organization, that ATSC 3.0 be the worldwide standard for delivering broadband in every country across the globe.


So what does that mean? Think about it - with the broadcasters owning the delivery system, establishing fast, medium, and slow lanes for delivering video and other traffic through the Internet, and charging carriage fees in addition to the fees for having faster service, what's to keep the broadcasters from choosing who even gets to use a fast lane, or making the fast lane so expensive to OTT services that are serious competitors, that for those services to pass along the costs to their subscribers would make the subscription price too high for anyone. The result - the broadcasters have the power to deny Netflix, Amazon, and other competitors the right to deliver their programming to subscribers that are using ATSC 3.0 - which, of course, is everyone
because it's free.


The endgame? Netflix and others are forced out of business, denied a way to reach their subscribers over the one delivery system that's available, ATSC 3.0. Now, television is back to pre-1975 days when the networks and their affiliates simply competed against themselves and no one else of any consequence. In my previous posts, this scenario was merely logical conjecture on my part. Now, it's a factual possibility, made real by the ATSC 3.0 and the NAB.


Enjoy Netflix while you can, everyone, because if ATSC 3.0 gains nationwide (and worldwide) acceptance, OTT television, including Netflix, that is not the broadcasters will be gone!