Raleigh becomes the latest city to try ATSC 3.0

Another city started test broadcasts of ATSC 3.0, the proposed next-generation broadcast standard in the past few days. This time it’s Raleigh, NC. Raleigh, with a population of about 500,000 sits at the center of North Carolina’s “Research Triangle,” a tech-heavy area akin to California’s Silicon Valley. It’s not a very populous area compared to some. Sill its level of technological advancement means that there’s some demand for the latest and greatest.

Sinclair leads the pack

Five local stations — WLFL, WRDC, WNCN, WUVC, and WTVD, are all beginning simulcasts using the next generation digital TV technology. Not surprisingly, two of those (WLFL and WRDC) are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has been pushing next-generation TV for years.

Sinclair’s management hopes that a focus on better quality will drive people back to using antennas. When they do use their antennas, they’ll be watching advertisements put in by local stations. It’s extremely common for pay-TV companies to substitute their own ads in local broadcasts whenever contracts allow for it.

Not only that, Sinclair’s especially interested in ATSC 3.0’s ability to delivered targeted advertising to each viewer. Companies like Sinclair and Nexstar have been extremely open about their intentions. Somehow they’ve forgotten how important ad-skipping is to people who watch linear TV.

Will ATSC 3.0 keep growing?

Events in 2020 have slowed ATSC 3.0’s growth, and the target is now for 60 markets, covering over half the country, to have some ATSC 3.0 broadcast potential by the summer of 2021. However, ATSC hardware is still hard to come by, and it’s extremely expensive compared to cheap TV tuners that have been available for over a decade. It remains to be seen when mass-market boxes will actually launch and whether they will be truly affordable.

In the meantime, some manufacturers are putting ATSC 3.0 tuners into their 2020 model TVs, but only on top-end models. We have not reached the point where regular consumer TVs have those tuners

A sea change in 2021?

The current Federal Communications Commission, led by Ajit Pai, has been very willing to let the marketplace decide when it comes to new technologies. Their mandate to allow ATSC 3.0 test broadcasts flew in the face of pretty much every established television law ever written. It’s perhaps only due to the fact that over-the-air television has competition from pay-TV and streaming that these mandates weren’t challenged.

However, depending on events which have yet to unfold, Mr. Pai may find himself stepping down in the coming months, much as his predecessor did in 2017. Depending on the makeup of the FCC in the next four years, we may see a return to more stringent rules.

The current FCC has not made any overtures to Congress, who would have to approve ATSC 3.0 as the country’s only broadcast standard when it comes to that. There has been no talk of a subsidized converter box program like we saw fifteen years ago. A differently-led FCC, perhaps addressing a Congress with different members than it had in 2017, might be more willing to help consumers with the burden of new tuners.

Or, Congress could, through inaction, let the new TV standard die. They might decide that the country would not be well served by another transition coming less than 20 years from the last one. And that could spell the end of ATSC 3.0 altogether.

Either way, a transition to a new standard, once targeted as early as 2025, seems unlikely before 2030 at this point. There may continue to be secondary broadcasts as we are seeing in Raleigh or other markets, but we probably won’t see a rush to spread this new technology all over the country. Not just yet anyway.

Don’t wait for ATSC 3.0, shop now at Solid Signal

Today’s antennas will work for current and future ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, no matter what. That’s the good news. So, if you’d like to see what over-the-air television is all about, all you need to do is shop the great selection you’ll find at the all-new 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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.