The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says the next-generation broadcast television standard, ATSC 3.0, is on track to reach 75 percent of American households by the end of 2023.
Currently, ATSC 3.0 signals are broadcasting in 60 television markets across the country, with Dallas-Fort Worth being the largest metropolitan area where the new broadcast standard is available.
ATSC 3.0, also known by the consumer brand NextGen TV, is an improvement to ATSC 1.0, the current digital television standard that replaced analog broadcast signals through a government mandate in 2009.
The new standard allows broadcasters to transmit ultra-high definition (UHD/4K) video signals to television viewers who receive their local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and other stations with an antenna (currently, no broadcasters are transmitting 4K video; instead, most are simply simulcasting their current high-definition signal on one or two “lighthouse” stations in a designated market). ATSC 3.0 also allows broadcasters to utilize Internet-connected smart TVs and other devices for hyper-local emergency alert notifications, targeted advertising and encrypted pay television signals.
While the federal government required television stations to switch from analog to digital signals more than a decade ago, there’s no similar requirement for TV stations to move from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0 at the moment. Instead, television stations owned by major companies like Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar Media Group, Hearst Television and TEGNA have taken it upon themselves to install new equipment and start transmitting a handful of ATSC 3.0 signals.
Earlier this year, the NAB urged the Federal Communications Commission to form a task force that would be focused on accelerating the adoption of ATSC 3.0 standards, which the group said would help member broadcasters roll out the technology faster and to more consumers across the country.
On Thursday, the NAB said it recently met with FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel about the initiative and offered a timetable on various elements that the task force could tackle.
Among other things, the NAB is hoping the task force will consider metrics for mandatory or voluntary termination of broadcasters’ ATSC 1.0 signals; encourage and monitor development and sales of consumer devices that have ATSC 3.0 tuners in them; discuss the benefits of ATSC 3.0 technology with members of the public and other stakeholders; and authorize use of compression standards for ATSC 3.0 signals so broadcasters can take advantage of freed-up radio spectrum for datacasting and other purposes.
Many of the initiatives outlined by the NAB in its task force proposal filed on Thursday come with a timeline of 6 to 9 months on the low end and 12 months on the high end, though the group is proposing some focus points — mainly those that involve multicast streams — to be addressed immediately or as soon as possible.
“Broadcasters have made impressive progress in a short period of time, and under challenging conditions, to deploy ATSC 3.0 service,” Patrick McFadden, the deputy general counsel of NAB, wrote in a letter filed with the FCC this week. “Broadcasters have accomplished this without additional spectrum [and] with fierce competitors working together cooperatively in each market to address infrastructure limitations.”
Without the task force, the NAB said ATSC 3.0 could be relegated to a “second-class, eventually uncompetitive service,” particularly as streaming competitors and virtual multi-channel video providers like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Sling TV gain popularity with TV viewers.
“The Commission should make this transition the top priority — rather than merely one issue among many — for a dedicated team of FCC staff,” McFadden asserted.