My TVN Tech Thursday story today (“Diginets Should Be Safe In 3.0 Transition“) delves into whether available encoding technology is up to supporting an industrywide effort to make it possible for TV broadcasters to launch ATSC 3.0 services on a voluntary basis while maintaining their primary and digital subchannels on which popular diginets are aired.
The bottom line from a tech point of view is that today’s latest MPEG-2 encoders, HEVC encoders and stat muxes are prepared for the task.
My story assignment was to examine this topic from a tech perspective with a special eye toward whether there will be room for the popular diginets now on air to stay on air in such a voluntary transition.
But there’s more to the issue than simply encoders and stat muxes. Whether broadcasters can actually implement a voluntary 1.0 to 3.0 transition will depend on an unprecedented level of cooperation and a willingness to compromise.
TV broadcasters repeatedly have demonstrated they can cooperate when it comes to tackling tough circumstances in their markets, such as one station losing a tower due to weather. I’ve reported many times over the years on fellow broadcasters who stood up to loan equipment, offer space on towers and provide other assistance.
That’s one level of technical cooperation, and broadcasters should be commended for their magnanimity in those types of circumstances.
But will they be so willing to cooperate in the channel-sharing/simulcast approach envisioned for the 1.0 to 3.0 transition in the ongoing FCC rulemaking?
Just as important will be whether they can make compromises that may in fact harm them in the short term to achieve the goal of deploying next-gen TV?
For instance, many broadcasters that channel share will be required to move to another broadcaster’s tower and antenna. Will that channel sharer be willing to leave uncovered pockets of viewers who receive the station today but won’t once its coverage pattern is identical to its host?
Another thorny issue may be bit allocation. Will broadcasters who have competed for years be satisfied that they are getting their fair share of bits when they channel share? (Harmonic addressed this question at the 2017 NAB Show. You can read about it here.)
The transition is based upon the idea that over time increasing numbers of consumers will replace their legacy DTVs with next-gen televisions. As they do, there will likely be the desire among many broadcasters to get on with things and fully take advantage of the new standard. As they do, there will be fewer and fewer bits in the market available for 1.0.
At that point, will the broadcasters in an ATSC 1.0 channel share be willing to transmit their legacy DTV as, for instance, a 480p widescreen 1.0 signal rather than a 1080i or 720p HD signal so they can pack their legacy service onto fewer channels? How will broadcasters with no interest in 3.0 react to that?
These are simply top-of-mind questions. Undoubtedly, there are many others. At the root of them all will be the dual themes of cooperation and compromise. Time will tell how they get answered.