“The Road to ATSC 3.0” Needs…..a Road.

The NAB Show is over, and another round of ATSC 3.0 glad tidings and joy begins. Broadcasters are eager packing for their trip to 3.0Land, vendors are gleefully announcing their new 3.0Gear, and TV stations are excited about future 3.0 opportunities because we’re on “The Road to ATSC 3.0”. All that’s missing to make the journey is….the road – and the motivation to ride.

Ten years ago, the U.S. government created a path to transition the country from analog TV to digital by allowing stations to broadcast HD from a second channel. Despite all the announcements and adapter coupons, it took five years longer than planned to complete. Even then, TV stations were barraged with thousands of phone calls asking, “Where is my TV?”

Closing the Road

The motivation behind that transition was the Deficit Reduction Act, which reaped billions by selling off TV channels 52-69 to cell phone vendors. But the FCC didn’t stop there -in 2018 auctioning off another band of spectrum, earning about $22 Billion, and packing TV broadcasters into channels 2-36.

Do the math, There are 30 TV channels in Dallas, soon to be packed into 36, leaving only 6 channels left for alternate ATSC 3.0 broadcasts. There’s talk of sharing several stations into several ATSC 1.0 channels for those who can’t or won’t switch, but 30 can’t be squeezed into 6.

In contrast, the first country to standardize on ATSC 3.0. Sound Korea has set aside the 700 MHz band for the new channels – the same band the FCC just took away from broadcasters. So, no, there isn’t a physical road to ATSC 3.0 in the U.S.

Finding Motivation

The road to ATSC 3.0 also requires motivation to make the journey. ATSC 3.0 is great technology, better than anyone could ask. The problem is, consumers aren’t asking; they don’t understand the question, and they didn’t ask for the last Digital Transition. Lacking a market trend, the FCC mandated the first transition, but they’re not doing that today.

The FCC is saying, “OK, we have an ATSC 3.0 standard, but the rest is on you, broadcasters. We won’t give you the spectrum for an orderly transition. We won’t fund ATSC 3.0 adapters. We won’t pay for new broadcasting equipment. We won’t mandate the shift, ATSC 1.0 remains the only national standard. We won’t force TV vendors to include ATSC 3.0 tuners. But go ahead, make it happen if you can.”

Take a DVB Chill Pill

In contrast, the rest of the world, who uses the DVB-T HD standard, has taken a more intelligent path. Countries have been slowly adding 4K DVB-T2 channels since 2010. Like the U.S. countries have sold spectrum for cell use – but kept space open for 4K expansion. Enough 4K channels are available that many TVs now include DVB-T and DVB-T2 tuners. And they’ve been smart enough to keep Dolby’s greedy hands off the audio tracks.

The question for me is, as ATSC 3.0 is based on the DVB-T broadcast technology (ATSC 3.0 is not based on ATSC’s 8-VSB) – why didn’t we open the door to DVB-T2 10 years ago and join the global community?

Nah, won’t happen, we’re ‘Mericans. Maybe the way to go is adopt a European-style mindset for transition. Roll out ATSC 3.0 and see what happens.

Peace out, I’m gonna watch some 4K on my $40 Fire Stick…..