In April 17-22, nearly 100,000 people attended the annual convention of the
National Association of Broadcasters in Las
Vegas. It is the world's largest electronic media show, covering all aspects
of terrestrial radio and television, including DTV and HDTV.
The Television Industry in the US is made up of many interconnected groups.
The complexity of digital television matches the complexity of the relationships
within the industry itself. The Technological Convergence has been completed:
all sectors now use the same technology. Broadcasters, for example, have traded
vacuum tubes for silicon, just as everyone else has. The largest barriers to
the adoption of HDTV are political, not technological.
In times of change, some will get stronger positions and some will get weaker;
some new players will emerge and some old players will leave the game. Each
of the players is struggling to change the least, while hoping to make the other
players unstable. The consequences of this game infest all aspects of the new
television systems, including the shape (and number) of remote control units.
This is my summary of the major players in the HDTV Game.
Government: The Federal Government regulates television in the United States.
The government has three branches.
Executive: The Presidential branch of government is not playing a significant
role in the development of television. It is preoccupied with world war.
Legislative: Congress is playing a significant role, setting deadlines
and directions for the FCC.
FCC Power and Influence Over Carriers
FCC: The Federal Communications Commission, established in 1934. The
FCC, unlike most Federal Agencies, is a creature of Congress, and not
part of the Executive Branch. The FCC, led by Chairman Powell, is using
its power and influence to help solve the chicken-and-egg problem of
HDTV adoption. The FCC has varying power and influence over the various
industries. Its control of spectrum licensing gives it great power over
broadcasting, but it has virtually no power over DVD publishing or the
Judicial. The courts often have to settle disputes among the players.
Programmers: Programmers operate one or more channels, packaging content
obtained from Producers. In some cases a Programmer is also a Producer. Most
Programmers are paid by Advertisers, and will often pay Carriers. Premium
is paid by Viewer subscription fees. There are four types of programmers:
Syndicators, who sell programs directly to broadcasters on a station-by-station
Carriers deliver programming to Viewers
Broadcasters: Broadcasters transmit signals over the air.
O&O (Owned and Operated). These are broadcasting stations that
are owned by Networks.
Affiliates. These are broadcasting stations that are not owned by
Networks, but which carry a Network's programming.
Independents. These are broadcasting stations not owned by or affiliated
Cable: Cable transmits signals through wire or fiber. Typically there
is one cable system per city.
MSO (Multiple System Operator), owns many cable systems. Comcast,
Independents, operating a single cable system. These are disappearing.
Satellites: Satellites transmit signals from orbit. DirecTV, Dish Network,
Publishers: Publishers put programs on tapes or DVDs and distribute at
retail or by mail.
Internet. Streaming video. There is little money here now, but potential
huge potential. The Internet is unregulatable, which is frightening to Producers
and the regulated Carriers. The computer companies (HP, IBM, Microsoft)
want to dominate HDTV, but are not significant yet.
Organizations. There are numerous industry organizations that produce standards
and recommendations pertaining to DTV and HDTV.
ATSC (Advanced Television System Committee)
SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), Consumer
Electronics and Broadcast Societies.
SBE (Society of Broadcast Engineers)
CEA (Consumer Electronics Association)
ANSI (American National Standards Institute)
SCTE (Society of Cable Television Engineers)
DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting Project)
NAB (National Association of Broadcasters)
NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association)
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
DDWG (Digital Display Working Group)
Producers. Producers develop programming. They are often the copyright owners.
Manufacturers. The makers of TV receivers and other devices, including DVD
players and DVR (digital video recorders).
Viewers. The audience, the ultimate receivers of programming.
Advertisers, who pay for the production and distribution of most programming.
They are threatened by the ad-skipping features of DVR.
Conglomerates. There are many companies which fit into several of the above
The Technology Keynote was delivered by Donald
Norman (Professor of Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science
at Northwestern University, former VP Research at Apple Computer), who complained
that HDTV systems are too complex for people to use. He said that he has one,
and that his wife is unable to use it when he is not home.
Virtually all HDTV sets are being sold today for Home Theater applications,
primarily the viewing of DVDs. Virtually no HDTV sets are being sold today primarily
for receiving HDTV broadcasts. I heard no mention of this important fact at
the NAB Conference.
36" and larger
50% by July, 2004
100% by July 2005
24" to 36"
50% by July 2005
100% by July 2006
100% by July 2007
Tuner Mandate of August 2002
Television sets must have ATSC digital tuners according to this schedule:
The FCC declined to dictate specific levels of performance. Such matters are
left to industry to determine.
The ATSC standards are still evolving. There are new features, such as E-VSB
(a robust transmission mode) which are not found in older digital tuners. Older
tuners cannot see E-VSB transmissions, so there is already a digital tuner legacy
Cable Plug and Play Order of October 2003
All cable systems are to comply with
ANSI/SCTE 28 Host/POD Interface
ANSI/SCTE 41 POD Copy Protection System
Cable systems with activated 750 MHz capacity are to comply with
SCTE 40 Digital Cable Network Interface Standard
ANSI/SCTE 65 Service Information Delivered Out of Band
ANSI/SCTE 54 Digital Video Service Multiplex and Transport System Standard
Set top boxes are to support
I spoke to representatives of Scientific/Atlanta and Motorola, two major digital
cable equipment manufacturers. Neither was displaying Plug and Play set top
boxes. I was told that the cable operators don't want the Open Cable standards
and will be very slow to implement.
If a television set is labeled as "Digital Cable Ready" then it must
have these features:
NTSC Analog tuner
Digital (QAM) Tuner per SCTE 40
Navigation based on SCTE 65 or PSIP
POD Cable Card Interface
SCTE 54 Emergency alerts
DTV broadcast tuner
DVI or HDMI or Y Pb Pr Interface
The first model must be tested at a qualified test facility to demonstrate
compliance with Uni-Dir-PICS-IO1-030903
The proposed Broadcast Flag is a bit that causes certain outputs to be disabled.
The intention is to prevent content from jumping to the Internet.
NAB is strongly recommending use of PSIP for supporting program guide material
in broadcast programming.
Digital Television Transition Worldwide
DTT = Digital Terrestrial Television
Digital service launched 1998, failed 2002
not competitive, poor programming, poor customer service, equipment
Reorganized as FreeView
Switchoff 2010? (all digital)
Berlin switchoff 2003
National target switchoff 2010 (SDTV)
ATSC, but with difference and a different timetable
troublesome for US broadcasters near the border
Will go with ATSC except maybe Brazil
May develop its own standard
Transition requires triplecast: analog, SDTV, and HDTV.
Concerns that HDTV is too expensive.
DTV: New Rules of the Road
1400 out of 1680 broadcasters with some digital service, about half at low
Phase in digital tuners, starting with large screen tvs
Powell Plan challenged and upheld in court
PSIP = Program System Information Protocol.
Distributed transmission networks. B Chip. Upgradability.
Cable Issues for Broadcasters
DPI = Digital program insertion; an opportunity for broadcasters
Dynamic range control
Observed range of 30dB between channels. (bad)
branding (preserve old channel numbers as trademarks)
Electronic program guide, can include Broadcast Flag