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14 January 2021

ATSC President pumped for HFR to hook consumers on NextGen TV

When recording the ‘Next Generation TV in Focus’ session ahead of its faux live stream at this week’s virtual CES, ATSC President Madeleine Noland declared ATSC 3.0 services will be available to 70% of households by the end of 2021.

It comes in the same week (or not, given that this CES panel appeared to be recorded at least a month ago) that industry group Pearl TV sent out a rallying cry – requesting a herculean effort to grow ATSC 3.0’s reach from 20% of US households to over 50% by this coming fall. So, this gives us an idea of the growth targets for NextGen TV, with an additional 30% of US households being targeted between now and Fall 2021, before a final push to reach another 20% in the latter stages of this year.

Either that, or the ATSC and Pearl TV – which represents some 750 broadcast stations across the US – have their numbers muddled.

Despite encouraging progress, the ATSC 3.0 community clearly has not learned any lessons from making brazen claims that it might not meet. Only last week, while Faultline explored encouraging ATSC 3.0 progress with Triveni Digital, we warned “call 2021 NextGen TV’s year at your peril” – addressing the notion of complacency creeping with the struggles of 2020 seemingly behind us.

Unless Pearl TV knows something we don’t, then falling short of yet another overzealous target risks more red faces among an industry already low on confidence. Although the industry will be riding high on developments made during the pandemic, notably with 23 services launching and 24 compatible TV models launching (four more than targeted). Some 20 additional ATSC 3.0 services are planned for launch this year.

There was one particular statement from Noland under the CES spotlight this week that stood out for us, which came when discussing whether broadcasters or TV manufacturers should lead the line. “I don’t think there is a chicken and egg problem at all – broadcasters absolutely have to go first,” she declared.

This was poignant given that Noland was joined on the panel by Samsung’s VP of Integrated Marketing, Grace Dolan, who nodded in agreement while preaching that the beauty of ATSC 3.0 is it being the product of so many peoples’ visions from right across the video ecosystem.

Broadly speaking, Noland is super enthusiastic about high dynamic range and higher frame rate, betting that consumers will become addicted to seeing things “pop off” the screen.

“A huge amount of consumer research has been done and it turns out the killer app on TV is actually TV. People love the immersive experience of 4K, UHD, HDR, HFR, and immersive 3D audio. Personally, I’m waiting for HFR, because I watch a lot of live sports,” commented Noland.

While we are familiar with how the hybrid IP-broadcast service has been designed to blend OTA signals with IP-based content, this week’s CES conversation zoomed in on the importance of audio, with so many aspects of ATSC 3.0 designed for choice and convergence. Noland applauded the options available to consumers on ATSC 3.0 services, from listening to the main OTA audio, or an alternative audio coming over internet, or different languages, or even descriptors for the visually impaired. The audio side of NextGen TV is often overlooked but the seamless blending of these features into ATSC 3.0 services offers a lot of opportunities.

“Choice was something that was big in ATSC 3.0, because ATSC members can’t agree on anything so we had to put everything in there,” jested Noland.

“Focus groups found that a lot of people watch TV with captions turned on, even though they are don’t have impaired hearing, but because they struggle to hear the dialog with all the music and effects going on. Who’d have thought that these would be highest on the list of ATSC 3.0 features,” added Noland.

“I take my hat off to the broadcasters who are rapidly rolling out ATSC 3.0 despite the pandemic. You can’t even get a tower crew to show up at your plant so kudos to the broadcasters for getting it done,” she said, also referencing the importance of the huge ongoing awareness campaign around ATSC 3.0.