New ATSC 2.0 Points to New Media Age

The new ATSC standard for OTT services will enable targeted advertising, interactivity, second-screen viewing, and the potential to send all viewing history to broadcasters.

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The big buzz at the National Association of Broadcaster’s (NAB) Show 2014 was the Advanced Television System Committee‘s new ATSC 2.0, which succeeds a digital TV standard that is two decades old and hasn’t kept up with streaming media, time-shifting and interactive services.

With rampant cord-cutting, broadcasters need fresh ways to grab and keep audiences, and they’re doing it with a dramatic overhaul of ATSC. Competing with today’s OTT (over the top) services that bypass traditional broadcasters, the new iteration brings interactivity like we’ve never seen it before, plus non-real-time (NRT) content delivery and a platform for second-screen viewing and interactivity.

We will be able to vote for our favorite Idol live, enjoy (or not) targeted advertising, buy tickets to a concert advertised in real time, download shows for later viewing, and (like it or not) send all of our viewing history to broadcasters so they can customize their programming and sales pitches. (See examples in the slideshow.)

Responding to New Consumer Trends

Keeping pace with the evolving world of media, the ATSC is examining updates to its platform to ensure the viability of broadcast content to include elements that consumers are finding increasingly attractive.

“Times have changed. The competitive landscape for broadcasting has changed. And while content is still king, the ways that everyday viewers interact with their favorite shows continues to evolve,” states Mark Richer, president, ATSC. “ATSC is evolving too with the standardization of ATSC 2.0 backwards-compatible enhancements to the current digital TV standard.”

Validating the ATSC’s actions are recent studies such as SNL Kagan‘s latest data that indicates 2013 cable subscriptions fell by more than 250,000. Moreover, the research firm estimates if cable subscriptions continue to trend in the same manner, 2012 will result in the high point of the industry.

Meanwhile, the broadband research company Sandvine finds that for the first half of 2013 Netflix accounted for approximately one third of all Internet traffic, with YouTube accounting for just more than 17 percent of all web traffic. Interestingly, Sandvine’s research also finds that of all the data used by consumers on their home networks, 20 percent was transmitted wirelessly to smart devices like Apple’s iOS products. This figure is up 9 percent from the previous year’s numbers.

All Signs Point to a New Media Age

In addition to the increasing popularity of streaming and downloadable content, the ATSC board is also examining how UHD/4K fits into its next-generation platform.

During a May 8 panel discussion in Washington, ATSC members met for the group’s “Today, Tomorrow & Beyond” TV conference to further examine emerging standards, Internet compatibility, UHD/4K and improved signal transmission capabilities. A highlight of the conference was a keynote address from former Oregon senator Gordon Smith, who now serves as president and CEO of NAB.

In his speech Smith opened by quoting Thomas Edison, “I start where the last man left off,” and stated the famous inventor’s remarks are poignant today because of the role electronics are playing in peoples’ lives and the public’s expectations of technology.

“Today consumers expect to receive their information directly and immediately. And taking up ‘where the last man left off,’ broadcasters are innovating to deliver television signals to viewers wherever they are,” he said.

Pointing out the ATSC’s efforts to keep pace with the rapid advancements in consumer electronics and consumer trends, Smith said the broadcast industry is working diligently to validate its place in the market when other mediums fail.

He went on to say the NAB supports the ATSC’s work to develop technical standards that will be accepted by all the parties involved in the broadcast market. Smith also pointed fingers at the government for its limited understanding of what is driving the public’s media consumption.