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NAB’s Smith urges FCC to get on board with emerging TV standard

Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said it was in the best interests of the Federal Communications Commission to be a part of the industry’s move to adopt a new broadcast standard that could turn the TV business into a mobile business.

The standard, with the geeky name of ATSC 3.0 (for Advanced Television Standards Committee), has been under development for several years, but could be close to completion in the coming months, if broadcasters get behind it.

Smith, speaking Thursday on a panel with NCTA chairman and CEO Michael Powell, and Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro, positioned the standard as fitting in with FCC’s goals to encourage TV stations to share channels and to stimulate video and broadband competition—goals often articulated by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

“It’s in the FCC’s interest to be a part of it and approve it. ATSC 3.0 helps facilitate some of their goals. It does require the FCC to be our partner in this,” Smith said Thursday at the ATSC’s conference in Washington, D.C.

“It’s important for more than a great new picture, it’s important for mobility….Channel sharing becomes really possible,” Smith added.

The new standard would put broadcasting squarely into the Internet age, Smith pitched.

“Broadcasting…is going to shrink unless you can target and micro-target in an election and 3.0 can do that. If you want to play in the telecom world of tomorrow, with telcos, cable, and satellite, then you have to be on this new standard,” Smith said.

TV manufacturers are ready to climb on board, said Shapiro. “3.0 is an elegant standard that can do a lot of things,” he said. “TV set manufacturers are excited, but if there isn’t support in the marketplace, it will dry up. So if broadcasters get behind it, it will succeed.”

But Powell said it may not be so easy to get the government excited about a new TV standard this time around after living through the nearly decade-long transition period for the current digital standard that came online just six years ago.

“The government has an infatuation with over-the-top,” Powell said. “I don’t know if it will be easier to galvanize change around the traditional TV experience. The political dynamics are more challenging today.”

That’s why, argued Shapiro, the broadcast standard must be industry-led. “Our goal is to make sure the standard is done. We can do it simultaneously. It’s better if it’s industry-led than government-led.”

The big complication with this transition to a new TV standard—the planned 2016 broadcast incentive auction of broadcast frequencies. Because the auction will channels, stations and facilities in just about every market, some broadcasters would like to see the new standard rolled into that whole fur ball. Otherwise, stations would be compelled to upgrade facilities a second time in a short period of time.

“It could be unfortunate timing. It could be fortuitous timing and there would be only one disruption, rather than two,” Gordon said.