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ATSC and CRE Futures

CRE logoThere is much good work that has come out of the Council for Research Excellence (CRE). Funded by Nielsen, but operating independently, the CRE explores the issues surrounding media audience measurement. Although participation on committees is limited to Nielsen clients, much of the output of the CRE is made freely available on the CRE website. This allows the industry at large to review the CRE’s work and to learn from it.

A recent series of recorded briefings for the very active Futures committee within the CRE has been posted. These discuss a number of topics, including addressability, ATSC 3.0, and Advertising 2020.

ATSC logoI found the NAB’s ATSC 3.0 briefing most interesting. It helped explain more about this new TV standard that’s been popping up occasionally in the news. In a nutshell, ATSC 3.0 will allow synchronization between a broadcast signal and a broadband connection to allow the equivalent of a fully digital, addressable, and interactive viewing experience. This sounds good for the viewer (supports 4K/UHD, can call up interactive elements or VOD from the broadcast screen) and the distributor (adds more side channels to each frequency, enables addressable ads and digital tracking of viewing).

Of course, there’s a “small” problem. The standard is not compatible with any current TV sets or receivers, not even that new 70″ 4K smart TV you’re buying for Christmas. Similar to the digital transition in 2009, you will either need a new set or some sort of converter box to use ATSC 3.0 if it goes mainstream. Based on my experience with research around the 2009 digital transition, it is hard to conceive of getting the entire stock of TV sets turned over yet again, or that stations will run both ATSC 1 and ATSC 3 simultaneously for the numerous years required for a natural transition.

A solution in search of a problem?

What may be even harder to conceive is why, in five or ten years, if a house is broadband enabled, they would still use a broadcast signal and not just stream everything. As Alan Wolk recently discussed in his TV[REV] blog, local broadcast stations that made sense in the 1940s and 1950s make little sense in today’s world where almost everyone has either pay TV or broadband.  I respect my friends at the NAB and their partners, but ATSC 3.0 has the whiff of a very complex, expensive solution to an increasingly obsolescent marketplace structure.

But that’s the purpose of the CRE Futures committee and its work, to gain better understanding of emerging technologies that will impact media and surface discussions about their implications.  Check it out!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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