Canada and ATSC 3.0

Dear Minister Joly,

A number of small Canadian television broadcasters have recently submitted requests to renew their licences.  As part of their applications, the CRTC has asked each broadcaster to share their plans (if any) for the new ATSC 3.0 television broadcast standard. The Commission has also asked if broadcasters will use ATSC 3.0 to broadcast programs in “Ultra High-Definition 4K and High Dynamic Range”.

The CRTC describes the new standard (currently in use in the U.S. and South Korea) as follows, “ATSC 3.0 aims to provide improvements in performance, functionality and efficiency compared with the current standard (ATSC A/53) so that video and data content can be viewed on any device (e.g. tablets, cellphone) and delivered using various platforms (e.g. over-the-air (OTA), Internet)”.

If OTA television broadcasting is going to have a future in Canada, where powerful wireless cell phone/internet providers are hungry to exploit valuable electromagnetic radio spectrum (owned by Canadians),  the approval and use of a new IP-based OTA TV standard capable of 4K/UHD TV delivery, mobile delivery, and interactive features will be key.

Here’s an edited, non-exhaustive list of the plans for ATSC 3.0 and 4K delivery shared by small (non-vertically integrated) Canadian television broadcasters. In summary, no ATSC 3.0 testing has been reported by the following broadcasters and all (other than CHEK in Victoria, B.C.) are waiting until the CRTC finalizes the ATSC 3.0 standard.

Thunder Bay Electronics Limited (CHFD-DT)

“We have no plans at this time to transition to ATSC 3.0. As such there will be no impact on our conventional television station and the station’s viewers.”

RNC Média inc. (CKRN-DT/CJDG-DT)

“CKRN-DT does not intend at the moment to invest in the new ATSC 3.0 standard, especially as we mention in response to the 600 MHZ question, CKRN-DT will have to make changes to five retransmission transmitters.”

2190015 Ontario Inc. (CHCH-DT)

“Once the ATSC 3.0 standard is finalized, we will evaluate it and see how it
would benefit the communities that we service. With mobile viewing considered a fundamental aspect of the specification, we are excited by the prospect of our viewers having more options to view CHCH. Currently, our HD sites are not equipped to broadcast the ATSC 3.0 signal.”

“There would be as-yet-unknown costs to upgrade these sites once hardware is available. The type of programming that we currently broadcast does not have a lot of
4K inventory available on the market. We would also need to upgrade our news production facilities to 4K. These facilities were just recently upgraded to HD, and until that investment is amortized it would not make a great deal of sense to replace it.”

0859291 BC Ltd dba CHEK Media Group (CHEK-DT)

“Since we will be required to transition to a new frequency as part of the 600 MHz
repurposing, we expect to upgrade our transmission equipment so that we will be ATSC
3.0. The impact to our station will be capital investment for the associated transmission
equipment, antenna and our ATSC local encoders which will need to support the
HEVC/H.265 video compression. Signal transport capabilities from our broadcast centre
to our transmit site will also likely require modification. We believe that the impact of
ATSC 3.0 on our current viewers would be positive as we would be able to expand the
access to our programming and enhance its offering by utilizing all of the advancements
that that the technology provides.”

“4K is of interest to our organization and in our opinion even more so HDR as it offers
dramatic enhancements to current picture quality. As we continue to upgrade EOL
hardware, where possible, we are upgrading our technology to support 4K. Continued
trajectory of our upgrades will put us in a likely future position to support and launch in
4K, as long as there are no unforeseen associated costs that are out of scope for our
organization.”

CROSSROADS TELEVISION SYSTEM (CKES-DT/CKCS-DT/CITS-DT)

“CKES/CKCS/CITS will be closely watching market uptake and regulatory conditions for
opportunities to take advantage of capability of Next-Generation OTA technology to
provide a superior audience viewing experience. ATSC 3.0’s versatility would allow
us to explore new business models to give consumer new ways to consume digital
content in a manner more in tune to how they wanted it. There would also be the
opportunity to provide content that supplement the main broadcast, bringing even
more value to the consumer.”

“Yes, where the content is available, CKES/CKCS/CITS would pass [4K programming] through to our ATSC 3.0 transmitter. Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDUs) should also be encouraged to develop the technology required to properly handle this picture
quality and pass it on to their subscribers for the must carry OTAs on their
systems.”

Société de télédiffusion du Québec/Télé-Quebec (CIVM-DT/CIVQ-DT/CIVC-DT/CIVB-DT/CIVS-DT/CIVK-DT/CIVO-DT/CIVP-DT/CIVA-DT/CIVG-DT/CIVF-DT/CIVV-DT)

For the time being, over a three to five year horizon, we do not expect to migrate to ATSC 3.0. We will start the analysis in about 3 years. Several advanced features will be put forward. The ATSC 3.0 standard allows a flexible and robust distribution system. Greater data transmission capacity per channel and greater flexibility for the allocation of these data. When Télé-Québec makes the transition, we intend to deploy the Ultra High Definition associated with high definition audio. The two handsets will give the television experience a level of immersion never equaled in television distribution. The other feature we will be highlighting is the ability of a point-to-multipoint high-speed IP Internet broadcast. This feature will allow the exploitation of new value-added interactive applications for our audiences.

Jim Pattison Broadcast Group LP (CHAT-TV)  *Still broadcasting in analogue

“We support the concept but have no short-term plans to implement ATSC 3.0.
Implementing ATSC 3.0 would be a significant capital investment at the same time as we
must make substantial investments because of the 600 MHz spectrum changes.
Current television sets are not compatible with ATSC 3.0 so consumers must first replace
their television sets which are not readily available in the market. Plus there is no incentive
for consumers to consider purchasing an ATSC 3.0 compatible television in Canada.
Both the current system and ATSC 3.0 systems would have to be maintained for a
considerable length of time effectively doubling costs. Once ATSC 3.0 becomes an official standard, JPBG will place more effort on realizing its full potential on our existing platform.”

Southshore Broadcasting Inc. (CFTV)

“Our play out system currently is encoding our signal via an AVWELLDMP 900 we can provide multicast IP compressed or uncompressed signal MP2 or MP4 and are currently testing a streaming application from our server for Android and Apple devices.”

“No, [4K OTA] will not be leveraged.”

Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (CJON-DT)

“CJON-DT has no immediate plans to upgrade its facilities to ATSC 3.0. The upgrade from analog to HD saw all of our older NTSC studio plant completely replaced. Further, a complete new transmission facility was installed to accommodate the upgrade to HD. Beyond those upgrades required to maintain operational efficiency, the financial resources required would not yield any benefit to NTV, especially with conventional TV revenues declining. We prefer to adopt a wait and see attitude to this new standard since standards have a nasty habit of changing especially in their infancy. We also note that new television sets will be required and while consumers are likely to buy these newer sets once their existing sets fail we maintain that the public will be slow to adopt new sets when their existing digital TV’s are working just fine. The transition is unlike the requirement
to switch to digital from analog. Further, programming is slow to respond to newer formats, even today, we find old programs which are not HD. This is especially true of any archival footage we may have and certain programs which are simply not available in HD. Increasing resolution beyond current levels will only make these programs look worse to the viewers. We note that despite our efforts to make CJON-DT HD which was completed on August 3, 2011, Bell Satellite have not yet seen fit to establish a spot in their HD offerings for NTV. Our over the air picture quality on Ch21 -1 is pristine. The cable companies and Shaw direct have upgraded their services, but Bell satellite has not.”

“CJON-DT has no immediate plans to distribute the latest Ultra High-Definition 4K and High Dynamic Range picture quality and as we have stated in the question answered above, this would require substantial upgrades to our studio and transmission equipment. We believe at this time since conventional broadcast revenues are generally on the decline, this has caused many smaller conventional broadcasters pause on further technological upgrades beyond those that are absolutely required. Newfoundland Broadcasting shares this view. ”

CKRT-TV Ltée (CKRT-DT)

“The transition to ATSC 3.0 standards involves significant impacts because it will lead to changes, such as equipment replacements, both on the broadcaster side and on the viewer side (set-top box, television). As the standard is not completed to date and equipment is not yet available, it is difficult to quantify the costs and benefits, both at the broadcaster and at the viewer level.

We do not intend for the moment to invest in the new ATSC 3.0 standard. Currently, all transmitters and rebroadcasters in CKRT-DT (total of 7) have been converted to HD digital broadcasting. This important investment was made in 2011, it is still very recent and meets the needs of our audience.

We believe that television viewing in our regions through the Internet is still very marginal, but we concede that there is some upward trend.

It would cost about $ 20,000 per transmitter to convert our 7 transmitters to the new ATSC 3.0 standard.”

TÉLÉ INTER-RIVES LTÉE (CIMT-DT)

Same response as CKRT-TV but with the following changes:

Some BDUs, including Videotron, offer certain television channels, including the CIMT-DT signal, to their subscribers via the Internet, including mobile phones and mobile phones. But, at the latest news, the results of listening to this service were far from expectations.”

“It would cost about $ 20,000 per transmitter to convert our 8 transmitters to the new ATSC 3.0 standard.

Regards,

Steven

 

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TVO OTA SOS

Camp Fortune. Chelsea, QC.

Dear Minister Joly,

Today is the day that TVO, Ontario’s educational public television broadcaster, had originally scheduled to shut down eight of its nine over-the-air (OTA) digital television transmitters. At the time of the announcement in January 2017, TVO’s CEO Lisa de Wilde argued that the change (as approved by TVO’s Board of Directors) reflected “the reality of today’s media environment” and that the shutdown would save the broadcaster $1 million dollars annually.  Less than three weeks later TVO reversed the decision, stating that it had heard from its viewers and that its digital OTA transmitters in Windsor, London, Chatham, Kitchener, Belleville, Cloyne, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay would continue operating past July 31, 2017.

While it appears that TVO will continue to support its nine OTA digital television transmitters until the end of the year, it is unclear whether or not January 2018 will see TVO attempt another shutdown of its transmitters outside of Toronto. This scenario highlights the important question of how to assess when is the right time for a conventional OTA television broadcaster to shut down a transmitter.  Based on statements made by TVO on this topic, that time has already passed since the educational public broadcaster is desperate to siphon savings to be realized from the shutdown of OTA transmitters, even if it means citizen access to its programming is degraded as a result. While TVO’s broadcast licence is subject to approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), TVO reports to the Ontario Ministry of Education and receives roughly 85% of its (combined) annual revenue from the province.  According to TVO, the scratching of the planned July 31, 2017 transmitter shutdown outside of Toronto was only possible after the Ontario Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter offered up an extra $1 million dollars so that TVO might continue operating all nine of its OTA transmitters throughout Ontario’s sesquicentennial year.

With TVO’s OTA television transmitters outside of Toronto apparently now operating on a one time emergency cash injection from the province, a comprehensive OTA television transition plan from TVO is due. Such a transition plan will need to be shared with Ontarians prior to implementation if the broadcaster hopes to avoid a repeat of 2017.  Ideally, this plan will span from 2018 to TVO’s next CRTC broadcast licence renewal request date in 2022.

In the meantime, TVO must enhance the online live streaming of its programming to Ontarians prior to shutting down any of its OTA transmitters. While the delivery of TVO programming via the open internet still requires Ontario households to both seek out and secure a broadband internet connection suitable for video streaming (service that is not yet available across the entire province), and to pay for a monthly internet plan that will cover regular online video streaming of TVO programming, such live streaming would nonetheless provide access to TVO programming to internet-connected Ontarians streaming TVO from home, school, the public library, and/or a Tim Hortons parking lot. Currently, TVO’s The Agenda is the only program that TVO live streams on a regular basis.

In addition, TVO also needs to start advising Ontarians on how best to prepare for Canada’s 600 MHz spectrum repack that will require five of TVO’s nine OTA television transmitters to change the channel that they broadcast on starting as early as 2019.

Peace,

Steven

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THE END(S) OF ANALOGUE: ACCESS TO CBC/RADIO-CANADA TELEVISION PROGRAMMING IN AN ERA OF DIGITAL DELIVERY

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 6.38.22 PM

Dear Minister Joly,

If of interest, my dissertation is available here: THE END(S) OF ANALOGUE: ACCESS TO CBC/RADIO-CANADA TELEVISION PROGRAMMING IN AN ERA OF DIGITAL DELIVERY.

Cheers,

Steven James May, PhD

 

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Canada’s 600 MHz DTV transition: 238 analogue OTA TV transmitters slated for transition to digital OTA TV

Dear Minister Joly,

Long time! Did you get to meet Bono at the Canada Day 150 celebrations?

Now that Minister Bains at ISED has announced Canada’s 600 MHz DTV transition plan, I’m particularly interested in the 238 analogue OTA (NTSC) TV transmitters slated to transition to digital OTA TV between 2019 and 2022 (for a handy list of the analogue transmitters see this link: Analogue OTA transmitter slated for transition to digital). Will these 238 analogue NTSC transmitters be switching to the ATSC 1.0 DTV standard or to the new ATSC 3.0 DTV standard? For an ATSC 3.0 DTV primer see this video.

Whether a Canadian television broadcaster is switching from digital OTA to digital OTA, or from analogue OTA to digital OTA, what is your plan in terms of informing the public of this change and of ensuring that households will maintain access to Canadian television?

Please advise,

Steven

 

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Digital Canada 150: ON or OFF? blog

Hello Minister Joly,

Click below for my Digital Canada 150 blog where I’ll be bloggin’ until at least Canada Day.

Steven

digitalcanada150onoroff

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Skinny Basic a boon for OTA?

Source: Bell.ca

Source: Bell.ca

Dear Minister Joly,

Congrats on the new gig.

Now that Phase I of the CRTC’s Skinny Basic is in place, I wonder if this just might be the break that (over-the-air) OTA TV in Canada has been waiting for.

While the Skinny Basic packages are fairly limited, particularly Bell’s offering, they do offer TV channels unavailable OTA that might interest Canadian television-viewing households. These non-OTA channels include The Weather Network, CPAC, AMI, APTN, TFO and others.

If such a package is appealing and worth $25 (plus other fees) to a household, and the only thing holding them back is the possible loss of their favourite sports programming or programming from American station(s), they may find out that the channels they are afraid of losing are available OTA (and always have been).

For example, some or all of the conventional U.S. stations such as CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS (plus others) are available with an antenna to many Canadians residing near the U.S. border (which includes most Canadians).

In terms of sports programming, television viewers may be satisfied with watching NHL games once a week OTA on Saturdays care of the Hockey Night in Canada feeds that Rogers offers via CBC-TV, City and OMNI.

Better yet, perhaps this regulatory TV shift will result in television viewers cancelling their traditional television subscriptions all together and instead opt to use the CRTC’s new signal tool to find local OTA TV stations.

Best,

Steven

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Godspeed You! TV User

Dear Minister Glover,

More Let’s Talk TV regulatory decision M&M’s were doled out today by CRTC Chairman Blais.

I’m a TV delivery/carriage guy, as you know, so while the day was more about TV content regs, Chairman Blais’ mention of Emperor did pique my interest.

I mused recently that if TV Content is King, then TV Delivery is Emperor.

Blais argued today that the Viewer is Emperor.

While it’s certainly true that citizens no longer need to wait for scheduled transmissions (outside of the Super Bowl and other events like it), TV delivery remains the most interesting and important aspect of TV regulation for me.

Also, if we’re going to talk about two-way interactive TV, we need to discuss active users with agency and not passive viewing audiences.

TV access is the hard part of TV regulation as far as I’m concerned.

The rest is housekeeping.  😉

Steven

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