THANKS, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: ATSC 3.0 may come later than expected

Sometimes, people say things that go without saying. Take for example the case of Pearl TV Managing Director Anne Schelle. At a recent webinar. Ms. Schelle said that ATSC 3.0 adoption was running about a quarter behind schedule. Personally I suspect it’s running further behind than that. And, I hardly need to tell you the reason.

Pearl TV?

Pearl TV is one of two things. It seems to be a home shopping channel in Australia, or a trade association for broadcasters centered around emerging technologies. I have a feeling it’s the second one. At least that would make sense.

ATSC 3.0 – where we are

ATSC 3.0 is the next generation broadcast standard, probably. It hasn’t been officially adopted by Congress. Congress must approve all changes to the way we broadcast. However, the FCC is allowing test broadcasts to take place.

Things have been moving slowly for the last five years since we first started hearing about it. The Consumer Technology Association ramped into high gear and rebranded it “NextGen TV” back in 2019. They must have thought the whole problem was the name, which is kind of silly. But whatever – we were expecting 40 markets to have broadcasts by this time.

Instead, there has been no real movement other than some press releases. The NAB, the national association of broadcasters, canceled its yearly convention. Television stations are expected to take a hit this quarter and next quarter due to the lack of live sports and the interrupted TV season. That’s going to affect spending on new technologies.

It’s a pretty fair bet that so-called next generation TV isn’t the biggest thing on people’s minds right now.

Amid a renewed focus on live TV…

There’s early data to suggest that people are actually watching more live TV lately, because it’s easy and comfortable. In a normal world that would lead to more profits as advertising spending kept up with viewership. But of course, the recent uncertainty has meant people are saving more and spending less.

With people watching more commercials, certain questions are being raised. The traditional formulas that dictate how many times you should show an ad to people need to change. Like you, I’m tired of seeing the same commercials over and over and they just leave a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s not just you – it’s really worse than you remember

Yes, commercials have always been repetitive. But, they are more repetitive now because of the focus in the last decade on “addressable advertising.” Addressable advertising tries to figure out what people in your home really buy and send personalized commercials to you. Companies like DIRECTV, Hulu, and Pluto all do it.

This sounds like a good idea. In theory, ads that reach out to you are going to be more interesting. But the theory falls apart because the data science doesn’t quite work yet. What happens instead is that since there’s not enough data, you end up seeing the same commercial over and over again. This means you’ll get past the traditional “sweet spot” quicker, and get to the point where the commercial is just plain annoying.

The reason I’m bringing this up

Broadcasters may tell you that ATSC 3.0 is all about 4K and on-demand features, but it’s really about addressable advertising. It’s about putting targeted commercials in live TV streams. That’s going to mean seeing the same commercial over and over and over again. I think it’s going to ruin the live TV experience.

I don’t blame broadcasters for trying to get more revenue. After all that’s how they can afford to stay on the air. But, with the way people watch TV today — specifically since March — I wonder if we have to rethink this whole “addressable advertising” thing and start providing more commercials so that people don’t get sick of the ones that are there, and tune out.

It would appear we have plenty of time.

I forecast that development on ATSC 3.0 will probably grind to a halt in 2020, and that we’ll see very little growth until the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. I don’t know when that’s going to be, but it won’t be this week.

Now is the time to re-assess how we are moving forward with ATSC 3.0 and what we think the broadcast landscape is going to look like by the time it’s fully adopted. In order to completely adopt ATSC 3.0, Congress must first adopt it as a formal broadcast standard. Then they have to set a reasonable timeframe for people to get new televisions or converter boxes (neither is available now as I write this.)

Given the state of the world, it’s pretty fair to guess that full adoption of ATSC 3.0 won’t happen before 2026. Even putting aside the big changes in the world, and even assuming that we get back to normal long before then, the way we receive information will change as much in the next six years as it did in the last six years.

In 2013, most people didn’t stream, because they didn’t have internet that was fast enough. Many people still used land line phones, and standard definition television equipment was still being sold.  By 2026, who knows how we’ll get our information and entertainment.

I wonder what Pearl TV Managing Director Anne Schelle has to say about that.

In the meantime, shop for an antenna that will get today’s broadcasts — and tomorrow’s — at SolidSignal.com.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.