The Future Of Broadcast TV, Maybe

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: TV is changing. Of course it is. As they say, “The only constant is change.” This change, though, goes beyond the usual headlines of how many subscribers cable and satellite companies are losing every quarter, to the very nature of how broadcast TV is delivered. Say hello to the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0.

At its core, ATSC 3.0 is the next version of the broadcast standard for how local TV channels are distributed without the need to have a cable or satellite subscription. ATSC 3.0 aims to make it so you could get broadcast channels on virtually anything with a screen – TV, phone, laptop, tablet and perhaps even your car. Some of the major benefits for the consumer include:

Picture quality currently is capped at 1080p. ATSC 3.0 will allow for 4K UHD broadcast as well as other standards such as high dynamic range (HDHR), wide color gamut (WCG), and high frame rate (HFR).

Reception will be improved, leading to more channels in higher quality.

Audio quality will be improved with allowances for 7.1 surround sound instead of the current 5.1

While all this sounds great, there must be a downside right? Well, that depends on your point of view. Without getting too deep in the weeds about how it actually works, manufacturers will need to produce products that contain a chip to receive the signal. Similar to how certain cell phones are currently able to receive FM radio through built in tuners, the chip will not have to use the wireless signal, thus not consuming your data plan. The programming content will be delivered this way, but ads will be delivered via the internet.

This is the part where consumers may be offended, but advertisers and broadcasters get excited. Delivering ads via the internet will allow TV stations to not only track what you’re watching, but to also combine that information with other data to provide truly targeted ads. Since everything will be measured, the stations will know if an ad was viewed or not. This is a game changer for broadcast TV as it will put it on the same playing field as digital for targeting, and cable for geo targeting.

Having the ability to deliver more targeted ads theoretically is a boon for everyone. Advertisers can eliminate the cost of delivering messages to large groups of people who are not their ideal target audience, viewers can receive ads that should be of more interest and relevance to them, and broadcasters can solicit local businesses that may not have had the budget to previously advertise on broadcast TV.

Unfortunately, the roll out for ATSC 3.0 will be a slow one, as the FCC has not made this a mandatory change as it did with the switch from analog to digital transmissions in 2009. While a few stations have been participating in tests since 2014, it wasn’t until October 2018 that a few major station groups announced their support for a 2020 rollout.

Early adopters may be able to utilize it then, but ubiquity probably will not take place until 2021 or later. When it does happen, it will make for an exciting change for both advertisers and consumers.