Synamedia’s ATSC 3.0 entrance taunts established players

Full of surprises, Synamedia has decided it wants a slice of ATSC 3.0 action, the US DTT standard combining components of OTA broadcast with an IP backbone, through a partnership with smaller encoding vendor Triveni Digital – an important supplier in the tortoise-paced race to ATSC 3.0. One glance at the press release immediately revealed two gaping holes, the names Pearl TV and Phoenix Model Market Initiative, two broadcast industry names synonymous with providing in-roads into ATSC 3.0 for the vendor community.

“Ah, so that’s what my competitors have told you about Pearl TV and the Phoenix Model Market Initiative,” Synamedia’s SVP and GM of Video Processing, Julien Signes, declared during a call with Faultline this week, discrediting their ATSC 3.0 significance in one brutal knockout blow. “We are not part of these trial projects but the significance is that Triveni Digital is entrenched in ATSC 3.0, despite being a small player,” he added.

Signes, accompanied by Synamedia’s VP of Product Management, Elke Hungenaert, assured Faultline that the company is seeing plenty of activity in retaining bandwidth for future ATSC 3.0 usage. As such, Synamedia is bringing its compression technology to the table to free up the bandwidth required to launch new ATSC 3.0 services by repacking existing ATSC 1.0 signals.

This is achieved using a unified workflow platform across both services, based on the architectural support mechanism provided by the Digital Broadcast Chain from Triveni Digital, including the newly launched Broadcast Gateway and GuideBuilder XM.

Triveni Digital’s Broadcast Gateway was launched earlier this year as both hardware and software versions, each available with Synamedia’s compression technology at the customer’s preference. The two firms claim one major US TV production company signature is already secured.

“Our feature set is pretty complete, providing encoding, processing, a private CDN with multicast ABR, and more, in one platform – which is very appealing to the broadcasters,” explained Hungenaert. Synamedia brings its expertise in areas like MPEG-2 statmux and HEVC outputs to the partnership, but of course rivals like Harmonic and MediaKind have been active in ATSC 3.0 for plenty longer than Synamedia. That said, the partnership between Synamedia and Triveni Digital is not exclusive on either side.

Let’s step back from the technology briefly and set the scene. Firstly, we rewind to a Faultline interview with Pearl TV last year, the firm known as the driving force behind the Phoenix Model Market Initiative, a collaborative ATSC 3.0 effort between 8 large US broadcasters and the technology vendor community. Pearl TV’s MD Anne Schelle dismissed our assertions that if ATSC 3.0 wasn’t pushed aggressively enough by broadcasters (which it isn’t), then the majority of consumers would be viewing content via the internet anyway, rendering the standard virtually redundant. Schelle insisted the aggregation of broadcast with streaming features in ATSC 3.0 TV will attract cord nevers regardless of the allure of established OTT video players.

It has been a long road to ATSC 3.0 spanning 10 years and only coming to an end in the US after the FCC finally agreed in February 2019 to start accepting license applications from broadcasters. The latest step towards ATSC 3.0 on a marketing level was delivered by the CTA a few weeks ago, settling on the name Next Gen TV for ATSC 3.0 services prior to 2020 service launches.

The organization says it worked closely with Eurofins Digital Testing to provide a suite of new test and management materials. Survey results showed that 42% of US consumers are likely to purchase a TV to enable Next Gen TV services, although consumers are unlikely to understand what the technology means and how it compares to other ways of viewing TV.

It was always expected that the first ATSC 3.0 capable TV sets to emerge would combine ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 with an early 2020 timeframe, although delays are risked due to difficulties on the agreement side rather than the technical side.

ATSC 3.0 is the first DTT standard to be properly aligned with IP, which makes integration with OTT services based on cellular or terrestrial networks much easier to achieve, as well as enabling richer multimedia services incorporating data, text and graphics. Enabling targeted advertising is of course one of the key ingredients of ATSC 3.0. But this does not bring interactivity even to the degree that satellite services allow with limited scope for symmetric two-way services at lower speed upstream communications for people in remote areas beyond reach of fixed or mobile broadband.

Long-forgotten though are the early days of ATSC 3.0 which promised to bring broadcast content to mobile handsets. Synamedia admitted all its own work on ATSC 3.0 – which began around the time of NAB back in April – has been focused on the main TV set. “Hopefully we’ll see something ATSC 3.0 mobile-related around CES, while we hope to reveal some customers at NAB,” was the message from Synamedia.

All lines point to NAB 2020 – including Synamedia’s. No pressure.