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ATSC 3.0: The Future Is Now

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What's not familiar is that instead of being provided with one ad by a brand, publishers could have a number of variations, each of which targets different groups of viewers. The ads are pre-positioned ahead of time, and when there is some data to provide some type of targeting, the viewer could be shown an ad that is more relevant to him or her. And, of course, these ads can be preapproved, so they are a known entity.

"The idea is that a certain amount of information could be asked of and stored on the local device without an internet connection," says Noland. "Then if the internet connection is available, it could be perhaps a little bit smarter, being able to go back to an ad server and saying, ‘Hey, what's the decision here based on this information?'" 

ATSC 3.0 Emergency Alerts

Emergency alerts can be more targeted with ATSC 3.0 than under current broadcast standards. (Image courtesy of Sinclair Broadcast Group)

Spectrum as a Service

In the ATSC 3.0 universe, there's no such thing as bandwidth congestion, so there's no such thing as adaptive bitrate. What the content publisher puts out is what you get. "With ATSC 3.0, if you're watching over the air and the content is available in high and ultra-high definition, there's no impact on anybody's bandwidth," says Noland. This is the ultimate one-to-many distribution. "Everybody gets content in ultra-high definition, a hundred percent efficiently." 

"With CDNs, you pay for every single consumer that you serve. So when you have large audiences, then your bill is larger. ATSC 3.0 is a multicast signal, a single signal for any number of subscribers," says Myslinski. "With ATSC 3.0, you're saving money because you can reach all those consumers with the same single signal. Then with using higher-order compression, you can offer a higher-quality signal, and you might, say, offer HD for free and charge for the 4K signal."

ATSC 3.0 was designed from the bottom up to easily converge with other data-delivery networks, including 5G, Wi-Fi, the internet, Bluetooth, and Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS). Spectrum resources are finite, and across the globe, data networks are becoming more and more congested, particularly from video, says Noland. "In order to make the most efficient use of spectrum, it makes sense to be able to dynamically move content from one network to another according to usage patterns. The 5G specification contemplates this heterogeneous network environment where data sessions can be steered between networks or even split across networks," she says.

Broadcast and wireless aggregate spectrum capacity offers the ability to hand off data from a 5G to a broadcast network. "Right now, with ATSC.org, we are working on a smart switch on what we're calling an ATSC 3.0 core," says Bouchard. "That's where the big transformation is going to occur. Once that's in place, we can do unicast offloading from 5G networks. To broadcast, you can do all kinds of mixing back and forth.

"Imagine a video goes viral, and in San Francisco, you have 400,000 unicast sessions watching this one video. The problem with unicast is you have to send every bit to every person on their own channel. And so you're wasting a lot of spectrum," says Bouchard. "If you see you have a large number of people watching the same thing, you can move that to an ATSC 3.0 broadcast. Smartphones that have ATSC 3.0 receivers will see that service switch coming off those sessions, so Verizon or AT&T unicast sessions would drop from 400,000 to 50,000."

That's not to say the CDN is going to go away, but rather that there will be certain applications at which ATSC 3.0 will excel. "There will be nothing that will be cheaper than ATSC 3.0 to datacast a single bit out to millions of subscribers," says Myslinski. "What you'll be watching will be rock solid and higher quality. 4K on a tablet will be one of the early killer applications for ATSC 3.0, because I think it's going to be higher quality than what you get over a CDN."

Bandwidth Usage and Pre-Positioning

When people are consuming content OTA, their bandwidth is not impacting their experience, says Noland. In fact, ATSC 3.0 can be used to pre-position bingeworthy, congestion-creating, video-on-demand content and deliver it without buffering. 

If a streaming service anticipated a significant-sized viewing audience, it could work with a broadcaster and pre-position the video file at either an edge device in the home or at the edge of the network. "You use the broadcast spectrum to move that data (at 3 in the morning, for example, when usage is low)," says Noland. "Instead of having to traverse the entire unmanaged internet from start to finish for every single viewer, some viewers can be getting off of local cache, which frees up bandwidth."

The result: When everybody's streaming, many people might not even need to use the bandwidth at all in the neighborhood because it's been pre-positioned in the home, using the broadcast network like a CDN for getting content there in advance.

South Korea

"South Korea [the first country to implement ATSC 3.0] had two features that they thought were most important when they launched: UHD and the hybrid OTA/OTT piece. They created a portal which allows viewers to easily flip back and forth between over the air and over the top. They launched just in time for the 2018 Olympics," says Noland.

Viewers can dive deep and follow their favorite sport, which is delivered OTT. During the Olympics, viewers seamlessly navigated between OTA and OTT to watch their preferred sports. At a click of a button, you can toggle between a deep dive and live action.

Move to IP

On one side of the coin, the biggest benefit of ATSC 3.0 is that it's a new delivery method through which streaming developers can create apps to be datacasted or delivered on top of the broadcast ATSC 3.0 platform. It's a very economical method of transporting large data files in a one-to-many system at a fraction of the cost. 

Broadcasters in the U.S., and soon elsewhere, will be getting some of the same things that those who deliver streaming are already using, and then some. Preproduction in broadcast is mostly done in baseband SDI, which is digital, but proprietary. "It's really just taking those mezzanine workflows and packaging them up within IP," says Bouchard. "The reason they're doing that is because you don't have to have everything on-prem, using proprietary hardware to deal with this protocol. You can throw everything into the cloud using commodity clouds, commodity compute, commodity services. It's really about utilization of the cloud and modern computing techniques that, if you don't make it IP-based, you cannot use."

Broadcasters say ATSC 3.0 is about offering more content to consumers, having personalized alerting, providing better content experiences, creating interactive experiences, offloading data congestion, being able to collect viewer data, and producing hopefully more profitable, addressable advertising.

Streamers, however, will have to wait to incorporate ATSC 3.0's benefits into their apps. "For today (due to the immaturity of commercial ATSC 3.0), only local broadcasters will be able to stream ATSC 3.0 applications over the air," says Bouchard. "We are working on opening up this ecosystem to others, with our work on the ATSC 3.0 core and APIs for full data orchestration and playout services. We fully intend to have mechanisms in place that allow any third party to develop and transmit applications over the air in the future—in much the same way developers can place apps in the Apple App Store." 

On the other side of the coin, this is about how broadcasting is tying up with streaming. There are large budgets riding on ATSC 3.0 (think about the 750 broadcasters in Pearl TV and all of the major consumer electronics manufacturers), and competing with broadcast going forward means factoring ATSC 3.0 into your road map now. The broadcast industry is looking for a way to deal with the disruption streaming has brought, and this is its chance.

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