Next Generation Television, enabled by the ATSC 3.0 technical standard, is likely to change today’s broadcast television industry in fundamental ways. Business modeling is examining Ultra High-definition video and immersive audio, HD “skinny bundles,” “post-Nielsen” audience measurement, addressable advertising, conditional access, hybrid networks, and mobile services to smartphones and connected cars. Much less planning, so far, has gone into the opportunities and challenges that Next Gen TV offers for the mainstay of local television broadcasting: the production and distribution of news and weather. That’s about to change.
My organization, the Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) Alliance,* has been focused on the reinvention of emergency alerting since our launch in 2016. We’ve made considerable progress toward our goal in preparation for the commercial launch of ATSC 3.0 transmission in 2020. Promises were made by the broadcasting and consumer electronics industries that we would develop advanced emergency alerting if the Federal Communications Commission would approve the voluntary transmission of ATSC 3.0. Our purpose is to keep those promises for our industries.
Now our mission is expanding: We are becoming just as focused on what happens after an emergency alert is issued. This means finding new ways to aggregate and distribute the news and information that individuals, families, and communities need to respond to, and recover from, disasters. “Resilience” is a term we all will hear a lot in years ahead as the world adapts to climate change and other threats. (Notably, the board of the Consumer Technology Association, an AWARN Alliance member, has adopted a “resilience agenda” for the global organization.) Next Gen TV will enable local TV news to build community resilience like no other media.
How can ATSC 3.0 become a game-changer for TV news? Consider these capabilities:
- ATSC 3.0 is the world’s first “all-IP” television transmission system. That means it’s still a one-to-many broadcast system, but your signal will natively integrate with other networks, such as over-the-top (OTT) streaming, 4G/5G, and connected car systems. These hybrid networks can lead to powerful new media ecosystems by giving broadcasters internet “return paths” for consumer interactivity.
- Next Gen TV will penetrate deep indoors to new smart TV’s as well as “home gateway” transition devices. With small antennas, these puck sized routers will integrate your station’s over-the-air (OTA) signal with the home internet connection and retransmit the combined content via Wi-Fi to all devices in the home.
- Geo-targeting, audience measurement, content protection, and personalization – all key features of ATSC 3.0 – will allow broadcasters to segment and measure audiences in ways never before possible. In addition to powerful new tools for your station’s sales team, these features open the door to simultaneous hyper-local news feeds delivered OTA as well as OTT.
- Next Gen TV allows stations to broadcast in Ultra High-Definition/4K while upgrading their current D2 channels from SD to HD. “Skinny bundles” of free or premium channels, including news, weather, and sports, become possible as new service offerings.
Now, at the request of industry thought leaders in our membership, we are expanding our mission to include on-going news and information to keep our communities safe after an alert is issued. Our goal is to develop a framework, or set of voluntary best practices, to deploy stations’ news and weather assets – and build on their long-term relationships with local emergency authorities – to keep television broadcasting as the most trusted information source when people need us most. The framework will include UX designs for multiple consumer devices, beginning with living room 4K TV sets.
To conceptualize the emergency news and information framework, it may be helpful to think of the service as an automated feed or stream that is transmitted both over-the-air with ATSC 3.0 and over the web. Rather than sending an alert, which is specifically designed to be intrusive, information is presented though an app. (Yes, you will broadcast apps with Next Gen TV.) Consumers might see a small icon on their TV or mobile screens telling them that geo-targeted emergency information is available to them if they chose to select it. Information like weather updates, flood levels, road closures, shelter locations, boiled water advisories, utility outages, hospital wait times, news conferences with emergency authorities, access to closed neighborhoods, or photos of missing persons would be made available at their fingertips.
Major news stations might use the feed as a bridge when they choose to end live, wall-to-wall coverage of an event and return to regular programming. It may serve as a source of localized news for their D2 channels that can funnel viewers to the news channel. Public stations that do not provide regular news coverage could deploy such an automated feed as a geo-targeted lifeline for their viewers. The service could also be a bridge between the broadcast news room and the digital media teams in stations. After all, the capability to merge broadcast and digital media is one of the foundational characteristics of ATSC 3.0.
To develop the advanced emergency information framework, we are taking a ground up approach. This fall, we will convene one or more roundtable discussions with general managers, news directors, news tech and operations executives, and digital media professionals. In moderated discussions, we will engage with these participants to define the recommended practices for stations to consider when they begin Next Gen TV broadcasting.
One of the key factors we hear whenever we discuss this concept with news and operations professionals is workflow. To create an emergency news feed with minimal impact on staffing, we will draw upon trends already well-established in news technology. We will explore using the Broadcast Exchange Format to pull content from a range of sources in the cloud, such as the National Weather Service (or its third-party aggregators), FEMA, departments of transportation, local emergency managers and law enforcement officials, public health agencies, and utility and hospital websites. The key will be integrating this official information with the station’s own news product, digital and broadcast. Clearly, developing this recommended template will take major brainstorming and continuous iteration.
To prepare participants for the roundtables, the Alliance will conduct “level setting” webinars – beginning in July – to acquaint more professionals in the industry with ATSC 3.0 and the opportunities it offers for cross-platform news and information services. These one-hour briefings will be offered free-of-charge to anyone who registers. The subsequent roundtables will be open to participants from AWARN member companies and organizations.
Our first level-setting webinar, ATSC 3.0 and the Future of Emergency News and Information, will be held on Tuesday, July 23 at 10 am ET, repeating live at 1 pm and 7 pm ET. To register, visit AWARN.org.
Our first roundtable discussion for developing the Next Gen TV emergency information framework will be held in Chicago on Monday afternoon, September 23, preceding the News Technology Summit, September 23-25. The Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites Hotel will be the venue for both events. For more information about the AWARN Alliance and our emergency news and information webinars and roundtables, please visit AWARN.org. For information about the Summit, newstechnologysummit.com/2019.
The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) is also partnering with AWARN to help spread the word throughout the industry about this innovative and effective life-saving technology.
John Lawson is executive director of the AWARN Alliance and president of Convergence Services, Inc., a consulting firm. His roles in media and public affairs include CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations, 2001 to 2008, and service on White House, FEMA, and FCC emergency communications advisory panels.
* The Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) Alliance is a cross-industry, international coalition formed to create the world’s most advanced emergency messaging system. Members include commercial and public broadcasters who reach over 90 percent of U.S. households, national trade associations, consumer technology manufacturers, and B2B technology companies. AWARN is based on the Next Generation Television transmission standard (ATSC 3.0), which the FCC has approved for voluntary use by broadcasters. The Alliance is neither a vendor nor holder of intellectual property, but an aggregation of companies and organizations pursuing a common public service goal.