Long live linear TV, courtesy of NextGenTV

Long live linear TV, courtesy of NextGenTV

ATSC 3.0 will give advertisers mass audiences when - and if - DD rolls it out.


MUMBAI: Las Vegas. Normally labelled as Sin City. But in April it was all about the future of entertainment technology with the NAB Show opening with a bang. And what a bang it was. It is a hard knock for those who continue to resist the frenetic pace of technological evolution. One of these is ATSC 3.0 which is coming. Yes, even as it is spreading gradually in the US, it is being planned to come to India. That is if Sankhya Labs, Sinclair Broadcast, Doordarshan and Prasar Bharti succeed in its rollout.

I happened to see some trial broadcasts in the Las Vegas Convention Centre and it was awesome.

At early stages yet, ATSC 3.0 endeavours to wirelessly transmit data, video and audio, over the air without using the traditional terrestrial frequencies or the 4G, 5G or 6G spectrum. Also known as NextGen TV, it is a digital television standard developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), offering features such as ultra-high-definition video, high-efficiency video coding (HEVC), high dynamic range (HDR), immersive audio, and interactive capabilities.

Sankhya Labs has been working on developing semiconductor solutions and software for ATSC 3.0-enabled devices. These solutions encompass various aspects of ATSC 3.0 technology, including receivers, modulators, demodulators, and related software stacks. Sankhya Labs aims to offer cost-effective and scalable solutions to enable the deployment of ATSC 3.0 infrastructure and consumer devices in India and other markets. Currently, it has developed – and continues to develop -  the PCB, the software, the receiver and dongle, and set-top box designs which will then be farmed out for local manufacture.

I happened to see the transmitter developed by Sankhya at the NAB Show which will be mounted - when the service is ripe and ready to be rolled out - next to the cellular towers which dot Indian building terraces in urban and rural India. Then there is the dongle (looking like the early device we used to get connected to the internet) which will act as the receiver and can be attached to an ordinary smartphone with basic video capabilities and receive the transmitted video at almost no cost to the customer. (Remember there are more than 500 million smartphone users in this country and even if 10 per cent of them opt for ATSC 3.0 that will be a humungous base of 50 million viewers) For the home, users will have a set-top box (which Sankhya hopes to gradually decrease in size)  that will sit next to the TV set to receive the signals for family viewing.

As it does for FreeDish, DD is likely to auction channels to private broadcasters who can reach viewers with another linear service, thus giving traditional TV a new lease on life and advertisers another medium to target the vast masses of television viewers.  This is at a time when YouTube video, Instagram reels, free-to-air TV, and streaming services have totally disrupted satellite and cable pay TV services in India with cord-cutters, cord nevers reaching record highs. The streamers need help to retain clever viewers who are sharing passwords as well as churning when they finish watching shows that interest them in one service or another.

How long will ATSC 3.0  take to become a reality? Broadcasters, handset manufacturers, telcos have all blackballed it saying that it is a needless platform that is being created. 

But Sankhya Labs and the NextGenTV committee would like it to spread tomorrow itself. Work has been going on for at least the past three to four years and it might take as much time for the government-owned broadcaster to give it a clear green signal. (I’m crossing my fingers DD moves fast once a government is formed at the Centre post the elections or a private company is given the responsibility of spreading ATSC 3.0 services in a public-private partnership.)  One can be optimistic and only hope that this exciting technology which can lead to the creation of zillions of local channels monitoring local traffic conditions, weather conditions, long-distance medicine, education, etc etc comes quickly enough.

When it does arrive, it will come with the potential to revolutionise the way we consume our entertainment once again. And oodles of other services.