WKAR’s Susi Elkins, Gary Blievernicht Talk ATSC 3.0

By: Russ White, MSU Today

Michigan State University and WKAR-TV (East Lansing) have received a license from the Federal Communications Commission to launch an experimental next generation TV broadcasting station to focus on digital advancement and internet based connectivity.

Listen to Russ White’s interview with WKAR Public Media’s Susi Elkins and Gary Blievernicht:

Based on a new set of digital TV standards called ATSC 3.0, Next Gen TV adds internet-style information and interactivity, plus advanced technologies, such as 4K ultra high-definition video and multichannel, immersive audio, to over-the-air television broadcasts.

“Well, ATSC 3.0 is an exciting new way to broadcast that allows for a much more connected, interactive experience for the user,” says Susi Elkins, director of broadcasting for MSU and general manager of WKAR Public Media. “And there are other benefits that relate to revenue generation, a prettier picture, and more audio options. We’re interested in the education component and the public service component. So I think there will be a lot of broadcasters who are interested in how to generate revenue and how to serve the general public. And public broadcasters like WKAR are interested in how to utilize it for education and public service purposes.”

“ATSC 3.0 enhances the ability to transmit multiple things at the same time,” adds Gary Blievernicht, WKAR’s manager of technical services. “You can do data, you can do video, and you can do additional audio channels all at once. So it’s much more robust. The signal will be much stronger and much easier to decode once we’ve made this transition.”

So what’s ATSC 3.0 for viewers?

“I think what’s exciting for viewers is the ability for increased mobility,” says Elkins. “People will be able to watch live television on their phones, or pads, wherever they are. We’ll see how that really plays out, but we know that there will be increased mobility, for sure. And also, it’s just a much better viewing experience, and the audio experience is robust, too, with so many more channels and options. The most unique part about the standard may be its hybrid nature. So it’s a hybrid of broadcasting and IP delivery. And so when you think about integrating what you use the internet for and your broadcast experience and put that together, you can imagine what the possibilities are. And well, we’re trying to imagine that right now.

“So there are a lot of ways that I think this will benefit viewers and users. But it’s really up to us to try to figure out what those are, and offer opportunities, and then the consumers will decide what they like and what they really want to use.”

MSU will open the Next Gen Media Innovation Lab, a new research facility within WKAR, and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences on the MSU campus. The lab will have an emphasis on outcomes related to education, and public media content.

“One of the things we need to do as broadcasters is to figure out how to utilize this new standard and all the benefits that it could potentially bring,” Elkins says. “In the lab we’ll study what the standard can offer so we can create applications. Our interest in particular is in early childhood education. There are some stations interested in warning systems and alert systems. We’ve talked about automated vehicles and agricultural applications. We’re here at Michigan State University where there are all kinds of researchers who are interested in how they could use this hybrid application, or this ability, to benefit their life’s work. So we’re creating a space where researchers and broadcasters from around the country who have ideas on how they would like to serve their local communities have a place where they can come and research and test ideas.”

WKAR is the first public broadcasting station in the United States to receive FCC authorization to begin experimental ATSC 3.0 broadcasts.

“Well, when we first started hearing about the possibilities of ATSC 3, MSU was really interested because they saw benefits for research, business and public service. And thinking about our land grant mission, it just made a lot of sense for us to learn a little bit more about it,” says Elkins. “And MSU has been interested from the start in terms of building research relationships around ATSC 3.0. And so we’ll see potentially how to use the data, how to use the applications. And it is quite an honor to have been granted the experimental license, we’re the first public broadcaster to get it. A lot of people across the country are intrigued by what we will study in the lab, and that’s why we want to have it open. We want people to be able to apply to come and do testing on ideas that they have. And I think that’s really what MSU does best, and WKAR is perfectly positioned through the work that Gary and his engineers have done to build out the transmitter site. All of the stars aligned to allow us to be ready to build it at our site and apply for the license. Now that it’s been granted we have a lot of work to do in the next few months.”

WKAR expects to begin ATSC 3.0 experimental broadcasting in September. WKAR’s experimental ATSC 3.0 station will broadcast in mid-Michigan on digital frequency 35, with a broadcast reach of approximately 40 miles. Consumer products that can receive ATSC 3.0 signals are not expected to be widely available in the U.S. before 2020.

“I believe this new technology could really have a very strong impact, particularly in the world of education,” adds Elkins. “Right now you can use a second screen and you can somewhat interact with what you see on your television, or certainly you can interact if you’re streaming. But imagine putting that all together in a really robust way that doesn’t go down when a cell tower goes down. There’s just so much possibility with the robustness of the actual transmitter site and using the broadcast piece of it. So as technology changes and people increasingly expect mobility, I think that it will be really exciting for all of us. Those who are creating content and trying to meet the needs of the users, and then also just the people who are looking for a new, unique, very tailored experience can benefit from this. I think that’s what this can bring is even more localization, more experiences. I think stations will be able to super serve their communities because we can localize even more than we ever have. And public broadcasters have been great at localization since day one. But this really potentially could increase that tenfold.”

Reprinted by permission.

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