ATSC 3.0 Was Never About You

Due to expanded DRM deployment and associated consumer disruption, Cord Cutters News recently resurfaced the story that various ATSC 3.0 broadcasters had began encrypting their antenna channels beginning early this year. While televisions imbued with so called “NextGen TV” tuners for direct playback are unaffected, network tuners that relay video content and platforms that record content are suddenly knee-capped. It’s CableCARD. All. Over. Again. Except this time we’re talking about content delivered over FCC-licensed spectrum that supposedly serves the greater good, to some degree anyway.

Specifically, owners of the HDHomeRun Flex 4K continue to lose playback capabilities as the virus spreads. The bad news is delivered via Silicon Dust’s generic “Content Protection” placeholder pictured below, as additional stations move to blot out content and consumer choice. Also potentially disrupting the nation’s Emergency Alert System.

Photo via Matthew Mello

The good news, if there is any, is that Silicon Dust engineers are working it. Unfortunately, they’re a small company, months into this DRM integration problem, with what sounds like leisurely response times from the certification authority. And even when, or if, they succeed with DRM support it doesn’t sound like there are implementation rules the broadcasters will be bound by. As in: it’s possible some, many, or all may choose to outright prohibit DVR capabilities via a copy-never flag. Taken collectively, this is why another small, innovative company pumped the brakes on bringing their next gen solution, the Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad Tuner, to market.

While ATSC 3.0 can deliver higher definition video with higher dynamic range, from where I’m sitting, industry’s motivation to make the substantial investment of time and money required is driven by revenue-generating data mining and targeted advertising. But don’t take my word for it as Sinclair’s David Smith who had this to say in 2019:

Smith said the usage data collected from the new standard would be critical for broadcasters and their ability to offer relevant, targeted advertising. “The data [from ATSC 3.0] will probably be the sole opportunity that keeps us afloat for the next generation,” Smith said, stressing that the broadcast TV industry needs to be more like Google with respect to the collection and marketing of its valuable data. “Our world revolves around data.”But he acknowledged that there’s there’s a lot more to like about ATSC 3.0 for broadcasters. Being able to tack-on subscription-based services and reaching all screens — fixed and mobile — with ATSC 3.0 will also be critical to the industry’s future, he said. Broadcasters need to “talk to every device in the marketplace,” Smith said. “We have to be able to talk to cars… We need direct access to the consumer who spends the money.”

As to Sinclair’s relevance to the ATSC 3.0 conversation, they own hundreds of stations in dozens of markets and they own a number of critical ATSC 3.0 patents, standing to profit from widespread adoption from any other broadcasters who similarly seek to further track and monetize consumers via the public airwaves. And I’m left to wonder if rolling our own DVR services, via HDHomeRun or Tablo, runs counter to some of those “subscription” services they want in on.

If you share similar concerns with how this has been playing out and/or were recently bricked, I highly advise you reach out to the FCC to ensure consumer voices are being heard. You could file a comment under the relevant Docket 20-145, although the review period is officially closed, or a better venue may simply be the FCC consumer complaint form.

18 thoughts on “ATSC 3.0 Was Never About You”

  1. Kevin, as mere consumers we’re not privy to much info and this rollout thus far is nothing like ATSC 1.0 which, in retrospect, was pretty well communicated and executed. Having said that, a receiver with direct HDMI connection may not have the same challenges as a network tuner like HDHomerun. Again, I’m using CableCARD as my analogue. But the HDHR is the most widely deployed receiver and the impact is what it is.

  2. OTA maintains relevance through local news and sports programming and many DVRs have been relegated to recording only local programming. Streaming services like Netflix have higher rated programming with forced ads that can’t be skipped unless. Certainly the OTA networks can charge more for their advertising, if they can assure the advertisers that the viewer will not be able to skip their ad.

    Many metropolitan areas, have relegated one broadcast tower to provide all of the ATSC 3.0 programming and distributed the 1.0 programming from that tower to the remaining broadcast towers. The 3.0 channels broadcast the same content as their 1.0 counterparts and are merely the result of the same 1.0 signal being upscaled to 1080P H.265.

    There isn’t any compelling reason for a consumer to upgrade to ATSC 3.0, since government regulations forbid broadcasters from offering content over 3.0 that is not available over 1.0. With the transition from NTSC to ATSC 1.0 the 1.0 station could offer subchannels right away, which was a compelling reason to buy a new TV or get a free government funded converter box.

  3. Agree that there is minimal-to-no compelling reason to go to ATSC 3.0 at this time. Unfortunately, that and the ongoing uncertainty hurts smaller companies pitching both or either 1.0 and 3.0 products. I believe broadcasters have to simulcast 1.0 for X years after lighting up 3.0, maybe 5 or 6? At the rate we’re going, that could be extended. But Sinclair, who seems to be the primary decision maker here, is motivated to shutdown 1.0.

  4. I had waited for atsc 3 compatible TVs. Broadcaster greed has changed that. TV has become a cesspool of content and advertising. I haven’t watched TV in months and don’t miss a second of it. Broadcasters can triple encrypt their signals. It won’t matter to me.

  5. ATSC 3.0 is useful for people in areas with multipath interference. Also the broadcast tower can be in a different location than the 1.0 tower, sometimes offering a better location. So there are reasons to go with ATSC 3.0.

    That said, this seems like another bad decision by local stations, similar to their charging cable/sat. companies to rebroadcast their content. That just leads to fewer viewers as consumers respond to the rising cost of cable/sat.

  6. I have a Sony Bravia XR set that has a ATSC 3.0 tuner. I live in the Nashville TV market and the NBC and CBS affiliates have just started the DRM encryption. Those stations take a couple of seconds longer to tune than the other ATSC 3.0 stations.

    The ATSC 3.0 stations have much better signal strength than their ATSC 1.0 counterparts.

    The mantra for DRM encryption for ATSC 3.0 has been it eliminates pirating their channels. That may be true. But I feel there is more to it. On the order of TV and external box manufacturers being forced to pay to get NextGen TV certification. And the stations that are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 are doing a lousy job promoting it.

    Even with the massive amount of households dropping cable TV, the station owners will still try to drain every last dollar from retransmission fees.

  7. The real draw to ATSC 3.0 will be 4k and/or HDR (at least for most people). today the only nextgentv chans (ATSC 3.0) are still only showing the same thing as the current ATSC 1.0 chan, and in Dallas we only have 1 ATSC 3.0/nextgentv chan anyway. broadcasting the same 1080p signal on ATSC 3.0 as seen on ATSC 1.0 gives consumers no reason to even know what ATSC 3.0/nextgentv is, let alone buy it or even want it. when ATSC 3.0 does deliver 4k/HDR (if ever) is far into the distant future (IMO).

    If I am understanding the comments/article right, the encryption may (should) play on a tv with built in ATSC 3.0 tuner, but external tuners like the HDHR/Tablo will not be able receive those scrambled channels? which eliminates any timeshift/record/playback (DVR) functions. So as long as the TVs will receive and play the encrypted programming, most people/consumers wont care, those of us who still DVR and use devices like HDHR, will most likely be out of luck, unless they do something like CableCard (yuk!) which I can only assume early adopters of the HDHR Flex 4k boxes will be out of luck, unless a network dongle might needed to be added with a UUID or something to register? or they (HDHR) may have something similar already? I guess silicondust knows what they are doing, this could not have blind sided them too badly?

    At the end of the day, our private data that will be mined from watching ATSC 3.0 broadcasts will be as valuable or maybe more valuable then the ads they will surely curate and serve to us, which they will charge those companies for airtime. all these devices have internet access so “phone home” to the broadcasters will be as easy as anything. They would even know if you muted the audio on certain commercials, and if you turned it up on others. they will easily build profiles on your watching habits, and if they link to the already existing profiles we all have from our phones, browser history, alexa, google homes, spotify/music in the car or working out, etc… it really is like 1984. :) and remember money really does make the world go around after all.

    Heres to hoping ATSC 1.0 will be around for a while longer.

  8. I saw this link the other day:

    It appears to be the first Nextgen certified external tuner that can deal with the encryption issue. It is available for preorder now at $80. It is not something that I would personally buy because of how limited it is: only one tuner, plus I can’t receive the signals at my location anyway. According to the FAQ, it contains a USB port although the use of it to attach external storage is not enabled (as of yet). I am concerned, as Dave mentions, if external recording will even be allowed.

    But, hopefully other devices will follow.

  9. A lot of us figured this out a decade ago. All NextGen TV has ever been about is eliminating the burden of infrastructure for the pay tv providers. I suspect the FCC has been on board since day #1. Of course, the other thing I have been saying is that not-so-free TV will be a flop and what is left of the airwaves will be returned to the people — or the wireless providers. It’s been almost six years since I bought my fifth and last TiVo. I had hoped to get five years out of the investment — and I did. It’s been nearly three years since I bought my last TCL Roku TVs and I am confident I will get five years of OTA via these. I expect my two year old 75″ Toshiba Fire TV will enjoy five years of Free TV as well. Except for the TiVos, plenty of ad supported programming being streamed to these devices right now.

    In the end, the not-so-free tv crowd will have poured tons of money into taking over the airwaves only to find there are no customers to exploit. The rest of us will tack into the winds of Pluto TV.

  10. I totally agree with all of the points you have made. Before “cord cutting” became a thing, the owners of local stations could care less about over the air broadcasting, depending on retransmission fees from cable companies for revenue. And if they weren’t required by the FCC to provide over the air broadcasting, they would have eliminated doing so. Now, they are demanding more money from cable companies and streaming TV providers for retransmission, since the revenue stream has been reduced by households dropping cable TV.

    The whole reason, in my opinion, that the local station owners are embracing ATSC 3.0 and DRM is to eventually charge for “premium” services on their ATSC 3.0 channels. The piracy angle they are trying to push with the DRM narrative is a smokescreen.

  11. Scripps broadcasting quietly bought TabloTV company in 2022. Hmm… Why would a broadcaster want to control what a home DVR is able to do?

  12. “Never about You” Exactly! With ATSC 1.0 I already get perfect high definition television. I’ve never been pining for a more crisp picture. I continue to be in awe just how good over the air television looks. They are trying to hide DRM and data gathering into a laundry list of things I don’t need, things I don’t want, and things that broadcasters won’t do (4k? ha ha ha never!). Oh and of course all your ATSC 1.0 devices will now be rendered obsolete even though they continue to work great. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  13. You’re ignoring those of us with multipath issues, where 3.0 is a real advantage. But yeah, if you have a strong signal 1.0 is good.

  14. First of all you can scramble and charge for a TV signal with ATSC 1.0 and very few stations do that. So that argument is null. As long as one channel is aired in the clear the rest can be scrambled.

    A huge number of people lost reception to some or all of their TV when it went from analog. I recall when Usenet was a forum for talking and not file sharing, on BA. Broadcast, when OFDM was not chosen one guy was warning everyone how bad it would be and he got shouted down every time.

    Engineers assured everyone how 8VSB for modulation was superior for the American market and of course these people were wrong. Where are they now?

    Sure ATSC 3.0 can deliver a higher definition but so what? There’s no mandate they do so and no programming currently airing in such. Only recently are some networks like FOX filming in high enough definition to do this. (Note: they FILM in such high def but then DOWNSCALE it for broadcast).

    And do we need it? Are comedies any more funny in high def? Is the news any more accurate or relative? No, outside of sports and a few nature shows the need for such ultra high def isn’t there.

    History has show people will not adopt until there is a mandate. No one watched UHF in the 50s and early 60s unless the market was all UHF or until digital tuners were mandated in 1964. And even then it took ten years to get digital tuners in most homes. And it wasn’t till the 70s until UHF tuners were mandated to have a “click” on each channel.

    ATSC 1.0 didn’t come about until analog was shut off. With ATSC 3.0 there is no such mandate and until the FCC mandates tuners in every set sold, there won’t be any widespread adoption..

    Remember right now stations cannot offer services on ATSC 3.0 that they do not offer on ATSC 1.0 so there is no need for a viewer to switch, unless they cannot get the signal from ATSC 1.0. Then they MIGHT be able to get ATSC 3.0. And even that will simply be upscaled not actual higher def

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