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On the Move in 2019:  ATSC 3.0 and Connected Cars

On the Move in 2019: ATSC 3.0 and Connected Cars

February 14, 2019

Work on the development of new and innovative services supported by the ATSC 3.0 “Next Gen” television transmission standard is continuing apace with broadcasters ramping up their efforts to make 2020 the year that Next Gen TV really takes off.  The ATSC 3.0 standard confers numerous benefits over the current 1.0 standard, including better picture and sound quality, a more robust signal for home and mobile viewing, enhanced viewer customization and control, and the ability for broadcasters to transmit a variety of data services simultaneously with their over-the-air television programming.

Given the fat data pipe, scalability and robust transmission capabilities afforded by ATSC 3.0, broadcasters are looking beyond simply providing over-the-air content with their Next Gen signals and exploring a number of new revenue and service opportunities.  With the burgeoning interest in connected and autonomous cars, one of the most exciting opportunities for broadcasters is the use of ATSC 3.0 signals to deliver telematics, infotainment and other data services to support these vehicles, such as software updates for electronic control systems and firmware downloads for navigation devices. 

Recognizing the potentially lucrative business opportunity presented by datacasting to cars, the broadcast industry is anxious to make it a reality.  At last month’s CES show in Las Vegas, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s One Media subsidiary announced a partnership with South Korean mobile carrier SK Telecom and Harmon, a Samsung subsidiary that makes car electronics products, to jointly develop 3.0-based data services for connected cars.  Expected to be revealed in April 2019 at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, the companies are building an automotive platform based on ATSC 3.0 technology that will allow cars to receive in-vehicle high-definition video content, along with firmware updates and map updates transmitted through Sinclair owned television stations.  As other broadcasters deploy 3.0 transmission facilities, the service is expected to expand to other markets. 

Pearl TV, a consortium of several leading television groups, is partnering with Avis Budget Group to conduct in-car tests in Phoenix, where Pearl TV has set up a “model market” of several television stations transmitting 3.0 signals.  Pearl TV is using the Phoenix model market as an open test bed for a number of emerging Next Gen TV technologies and services.  The in-car tests, expected to begin early this year, will look at several use cases from basic over-the-air reception of audio and video entertainment programming to interactive applications, such as map downloads and software updates.

While there doesn’t seem to be any question that ATSC 3.0 technology can be a valuable resource for the connected and autonomous cars of the future, the key to whether the Next Gen TV transition is successful depends in large part on the willingness of broadcasters to collaborate with each other to exploit the 3.0 standard.  First, pursuant to the FCC’s requirements, a broadcaster choosing to implement 3.0 operations must partner with one or more stations in its local market to simulcast its programming with the current 1.0 standard so as to not cut off service to over-the-air viewers with incompatible 1.0 television receivers.  Structuring these so-called “lighthouse” arrangements to keep legacy 1.0 signals available for all viewers in a market while new 3.0 services are being launched requires a great deal of cooperation and coordination, which is not an easy task for broadcasters much more accustomed to competing with each other for eyeballs and advertising dollars.

Second, Next Gen TV broadcasters will likely need to collaborate by combining the bits they have left over after their required over-the-air television services are provided (a practice known as “bit pooling”) to ensure that the massive data demands of connected and autonomous cars are met.  Hopefully, with the growing interest in connected car and autonomous vehicle technology, broadcasters will recognize the immense revenue opportunity it represents and will begin to look beyond the typical broadcast television business model to collaborate with each other to leverage the unique characteristics of the ATSC 3.0 standard not only for their benefit, but the benefit of automakers and drivers as well.

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