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Innovation Takes Off in ATSC 3.0 Realm, First wave entrepreneurs see huge interest


By Cora Leighter

Hunt Valley, MD–September 22, 2020– Did you hear the one about the guy who got more than 12 times the Kickstarter funding he requested to develop a new ATSC 3.0 device?

“I quit my ‘day job’ when ATSC 3.0 came around,” said Nick Kelsey, founder and chief technology officer of Silicon Dust, maker of networked TV tuner and DVR devices. Silicon Dust was already making products when ATSC 3.0 pivoted Kelsey’s attention. Intrigued, he turned to Kickstarter last April to raise $50,000 for a 3.0-capable device.

“The response was just incredible,” he said during a Sept. 15 webinar focused on ATSC 3.0 innovation and moderated by Skip Flenniken, senior finance manager for Sinclair Broadcast Group. “We hit our funding goal in the first hour. We hit more than $600,000 [to date]. It was a highly successful exercise. It’s clear people want to be involved with this technology.”

The IP based foundation of ATSC 3.0 opens up broadcast TV spectrum to third-party developers in a way that wasn’t possible with legacy systems. Automakers and fleet managers are keen on it because its one-to-many capability is a far more efficient way to reach connected vehicles than the one-to-one cellular network.

“We have more services and features available in vehicles than anywhere else,” said George Ayres, an auto industry veteran who recently joined Vinli, creator of an AI-enabled vehicle data platform. “One of the issues is the cost of sending that data to those vehicles. What’s exciting about ATSC 3.0 is to be able to send data to those vehicles in a low-cost way.

Map updates, for example, are data heavy and expensive over cellular, he said. Vehicle makers would like to dynamically update mapping in real time. “The big driver will be how to push that data in as low a cost way as is available,” Ayres said. “Car makers are looking at this.”

Madeleine Noland, president of ATSC, wants car makers and others to know ATSC 3.0 is ready for product development right now.

“There’s a lot of headroom for innovation in the standard as it is today,” she said of ATSC 3.0, which is more of a set of standards with one underlying physical configuration that can support future development without obsolescing legacy applications. As a result, it can handle everything from 4K TV, object-based audio, multiple languages to connected cars, game console updates, interactive advertising and things yet to be discovered. Plus, it won’t leave developers and users stranded when it’s time for an update.

“We can continually upgrade 3.0 without orphaning legacy devices,” Noland said. This type of adaptability is imperative in a world where upgrades are par for course. “How old do you think your Netflix or Amazon Prime app is? Two or three months?”

This type of future accommodation was one of the most difficult things about developing the standard, according to the man who conceptualized it decades ago.

“We didn’t do any hard-wiring or any sort of short-cutting,” said Mark Aitken, senior vice president of Sinclair Broadcast Group and president of its subsidiary ONE Media 3.0. Of the many goals in creating ATSC 3.0, supporting an environment for entrepreneurship was high on the list. The evolvability of this standard supports an “agile” development approach versus a “waterfall” model, a process in which the requirements are expected to change and evolve.

“In the agile context, you have this continuous cycle of improvement. That gets layered on by the universe of web (and other) activity around us,” he said.

One of the more opportunistic aspects of ATSC 3.0 is its global applicability. South Korea has embraced the standard, while other regions are coming to recognize its value, including Caribbean islands, African nations and in particular, India. Nolan said there are working groups within the Advanced Television Systems Committee—the wellspring of ATSC 3.0—dedicated to their specific needs.

“Some of the motivation is the overwhelmed cellular system in India. There are 1.2 billion cellphones. Their networks are running at 90 – 95 percent capacity. Offload might make a lot of sense. The number of people watching a cricket match can reach 20 to 30 million, many of them on their phone.”

Brazil also has issued a call for proposals for “TV 3.0,” she said. “The ATSC team considering this.” One of the most important things ATSC as an organization is doing is to assure 3.0 is recognized by the International Telecommunications Union, the global communications standards body. “They are incorporating ATSC 3.0 into their terrestrial broadcast
documentation,” Noland said.

Reaching scale is key to the success of ATSC 3.0. Anne Schelle is devoted to this objective. Schelle is executive director of Pearl TV, an alliance of TV station groups pursuing a coordinated adoption of ATSC 3.0—slowed but not stopped by COVID-19.

“Certainly, by the end of next year we’ll be at 70 percent household coverage,” she said. For her constituents, the focus is television—specifically, the advanced audio and video features ATSC 3.0 enables.

“If we can drive scale within our core business, that will help bring opportunities,” she said.

Information in this article originated from a webinar from the ATSC 3.0 Monetization series from Sinclair Broadcast Group. To watch a video of this webinar on demand go to this link.
Watch all webinar in the series on demand here.

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