"Next Gen TV" Could Offer Expanded Local Services During COVID-19

National Association of Broadcasters Show - logo-H 2020
Courtesy of National Association of Broadcasters

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a panel of broadcast stakeholders reported that they are proceeding to implement the U.S.' voluntary "Next Gen TV" broadcast transmission system, while identifying what could be potential opportunities for local broadcasters to use the new services to support their communities during the crisis.

The remote panel discussion was held Thursday as part of "NAB Show Express," a virtual event featuring some of the panels and content that had been planned for the 2020 NAB Show. The annual conference had been scheduled to take place last month in Las Vegas but was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

The Internet Protocol-based Next Gen TV system is a voluntary upgrade from the country’s free, over-the-air HDTV broadcasting system (meaning this doesn’t affect cable, satellite or streaming services) that effectively helps to bridge broadcast and broadband. This includes the ability to receive an over-the-air TV signal on a cellphone or tablet without using a cellular service or a data plan.

As it is a voluntary system, consumers can access these new capabilities if a broadcaster in their region chooses to offer them and if they have a Next Gen TV-supported television or mobile device. Stakeholders kicked off the rollout in January at CES, with 20 supported TV models announced from LG, Samsung and Sony. Meanwhile, roughly 60 markets were expected to begin to offer some level of NextGen TV services this year, though that number is uncertain.

"I think we are still on track to get a bunch of markets launched this year. The number will really depend on when we are all able to start to travel [in order to complete the work]," reported John Hane, president of Spectrum Co., a consortium of broadcasters that is planning the transition of member stations to Next Gen TV.

Kerry Oslund, vp strategy and business development for The E.W. Scripps Company, confirmed that this is a priority for his company. "We’ve gone from COVID triage to this interim new normal to thinking a lot more about what reopening looks like for Scripps," he said. "Next Gen television is high on our list of things we want to be shouting to the world about when we get to our post-COVID new normal."

Speakers also discussed how broadcasters could potentially use Next Gen TV capabilities, once operational, to service their communities during the pandemic. "There are still quite a lot of people who rely on over the air TV to get critical information and we are producing a lot of content elements that we put on digital channels and our web sites. Because [NextGen TV] is IP-based, we would love to be able to take our digital assets and distribute them in a one-to-many way and reach underserved audiences," said Brett Jenkins, executive vp and chief technology officer at Nexstar Media Group.

Hane added that "a lot of those families [without broadband or with limited broadband access] have children and those children can no longer go to school and need distance education."

"What if a student can’t access distance learning content? Do you hold them back? Do you give them a pass?,” he asked. "Broadcasting can fill those gaps. We can get the content into the homes."

"At the local level, we could also provide grocery store inventory, hospital wait times. We could do all that," said Oslund, adding that “we are looking at OTT for inspiration and globally for inspiration."

Pearl TV managing director Anne Schelle moderated the discussion.