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Consumer Success or Bust?

ATSC 3.0 Comments Support Keeping A/322 Mandate in Place for Now

Opinions varied among the comments received in the FCC’s June 22 NPRM on ATSC 3.0, five years into its voluntary deployment (see 2207060019), about whether the technology scored a hit with consumers. There appeared to be consensus in the comments posted Tuesday in docket 16-142 about keeping in place for now the requirement that TV broadcasters transmit their primary 3.0 video streams in compliance with ATSC's A/322 physical layer protocol standard. The A/322 requirement is due to expire March 6 unless the FCC reinstates it.

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TV manufacturers are introducing many devices with 3.0, and “consumers are buying them,” said CTA. Despite COVID-19 pandemic-related supply chain challenges, CTA projects 11% of the TVs shipped to the U.S. in 2022, or 4.5 million sets, will be 3.0-enabled, it said.

Consumers can buy 3.0 TVs “across a range of models and prices,” said Pearl TV. Consumers will soon have more than 120 models of 3.0-capable TV sets “from four different manufacturers to choose from, with more on the way,” it said.

Contrary to suggestions that household penetration growth of 3.0 TVs has been slow, the actual numbers “reflect a significant consumer appetite” for the technology, said Pearl. Citing CTA data, Pearl said consumer demand for 3.0 TVs is outpacing that of “predecessor technologies” like 4K TV and DVD players. The proportion of consumers who buy and choose new 3.0-capable TVs for their other attributes, unaware of or apathetic toward the 3.0 tuners built into their new sets, is unknown.

But the marketplace for 3.0 TV services is somewhat of a bust, said the American Television Alliance, having “not developed meaningfully” since the FCC’s 2017 order authorizing 3.0's voluntary deployment. The market “appears to us much as it did in 2017,” it said. Broadcasters have placed “considerable efforts” into developing and deploying 3.0, “yet relatively few” TVs have 3.0 capability now, it said: “The penetration of ATSC 3.0-ready television sets is not close to exhibiting widespread consumer adoption.”

Among those favoring keeping the A/322 requirement in place, LG was the most vociferous in its support, and was among the few to argue for making the mandate permanent. Letting the A/322 requirement lapse would be “misguided” of the FCC, said LG.

A/322 is a “foundational element” of 3.0, said LG. It enables a 3.0 signal to be “reliably transmitted and received, as it describes the interference characteristics of the signal and ensures that it does not interfere with ATSC 1.0 signals or other 3.0 signals,” it said. The A/322 requirement “plays an important role in protecting the interests of consumers,” it said. Without the requirement, “if a broadcaster used a standard other than A/322 for transmission of its primary broadcast stream, consumers would be unable to obtain the broadcaster’s programming because support for that bespoke standard would not be incorporated into the consumers’ devices,” it said.

It’s “too early” for the FCC to sunset the A/322 requirement, said CTA. A/322 “provides stability to the television manufacturing marketplace without harming broadcaster innovation,” it said. If broadcasters don't use A/322 for their transmissions, TV makers “might be forced to reconsider plans” to incorporate 3.0 tuners in devices “coming off the factory lines,” it said. “In turn, millions of dollars could be lost, and consumers could be left with brand new, yet obsolete devices.” CTA five years ago at first favored voluntary broadcaster use of A/322. Bowing to member pressure, CTA later asked the FCC to make A/322 a mandate (see 1710200043).

NAB supports a “reasonable extension” of the A/322 requirement, said the association. The A/322 mandate “has not impeded” 3.0 deployments or the development of equipment, it said. “In fact, NAB believes the requirement has been helpful” in encouraging TV manufacturers to design and build sets that incorporate 3.0 tuners, it said.

BitPath takes no position on the “near-term sunset”of the A/322 requirement, said the 3.0 broadcast data network of Sinclair and Nexstar. “Over the longer term, a government requirement to comply with a specific technical standard will stifle innovation to the detriment of viewers. There is no harm in letting the requirement expire, but we do not see the requirement as a near-term obstacle.”