The Survival of the Fittest (of TV Stations) in a Smart TV world … Local HD News & IPTV

By 2015, TV Everywhere, OTT TV and Smart TVs will be all over, in connected homes and on-the-road through wireless broadband. But local audiences still need local HD newscasts, delivered by streaming simulcasts in addition to traditional OTA and MVPDs.

A Smart TV is a flat screen HDTV set, generally of a larger size suitable for home viewing, connected to a broadband internet service directly, with built-in “PC capabilities” enabling advanced internet searching and the running of media-related applications to find, receive and display a wide selection of television programs and video being streamed over the internet. The Smart TV also provides connectivity to cable/satellite/telco TV STBs through HDMI and includes the FCC-mandated DTV over-the-air (OTA) built-in ATSC tuner, and attempts to integrate all TV program sources into one program guide for viewer convenience and flexibility, making lesser known TV programs more competitive as to audience reach.

An existing HDTV set may be upgraded to a Smart TV by acquiring an external Smart TV box (such as the Logitech Google TV box or the LG Smart TV upgrade box). See the illustration above. A potential drawback with any external upgrade box is that the upgrade box may not provide ATSC OTA input, thus requiring the OTA antenna to connect directly to the “old, not-so-smart” HDTV set, and thus not be fully integrated in the “smart” program guide/search.

This article deals with how the local TV stations can possibly increase total local audience share in the future difficult environment where more and more TV and video content is available “streaming on-line” over the internet. One thing is certain in the opinion of the Author: by 2015, a local TV station without local HD news and local HD content has a much lesser basis for profitable existence.

Breaking News:
CNN first with live 24/7 simulcast “IPTV Channel”

Time Warner Inc. (not Time Warner Cable) just announced (July 18, 2011) that its primary CNN and HLN channels are now available “free” over the internet 24/7 at home and on mobile devices as live simulcasts under the TV Everywhere service with viewer sign-up on the CNN website proving that they indeed are pay-TV subscribers to Comcast, DISH, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-verse, COX or SuddenLink (initial limitation). Other MVPDs’ subscribers will gain access in the near future, no doubt. Only two days later, CNN announced that more than 10 million CNN apps had already been downloaded by users of iPhones, iPads, Android and Nokia devices.

This is a very significant development when this major 24/7 news channel recognizes the future necessity of distributing their program live simulcast 24/7 over the internet, for viewing within the connected home and when on the road.

The major sports leagues have each originated their own MVPD channel (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) the first being NBA TV starting in 1999. The MLB Network is probably the largest one in viewer reach, over cable/satellite/telco TV and by simulcasts over the internet in 720HD (subject to subscribers’ broadband bitrate) for an annual subscription of $80. ESPN initiated live simulcast streaming of sporting events over the internet at the end of 2010. ESPN offers a very impressive service available “free” to MVPD subscribers under the TV Everywhere umbrella, where the validated user may often select among several live sporting events at any one time.

Other news cable channels (i.e. Fox News and others) are available live over the internet and through wireless broadband providers (Verizon, T-Mobile etc) in their live/on-demand video subscription packages, but up to now, U.S.-wide (continuous near 24/7) MVPD/internet simulcasts have not been available from any major national network. One may certainly look at the retransmission of local over-the-air (OTA) TV channel newscasts over cable systems to be a simulcasts, but we call it retransmission. The term simulcast is recently understood to be
the simultaneous availability of the same TV program at the same time through two or more delivery paths
or vehicles, i.e.:

  • A Cable/Satellite/Telco Channel also streaming over the Internet
  • A TV OTA Channel (main DTV or sub) also streaming over the Internet

Also, a TV Channel’s main DTV program (or sub) concurrently streaming over the Mobile DTV (ATSC M/H) subcarrier is a simulcast although the delivery is on the same OTA TV broadcast DTV carrier.

A single IPTV Channel’s live streaming over the Internet may need to be more than one stream, with service through wired broadband (i.e. HD resolution stream for Smart TVs) as well as through wireless broadband to out-of-home mobile devices (i.e. SD resolution stream), although HD capable laptops and tablets may indeed be able to display the HD stream subject to wireless download speed being capable of the HD stream’s bitrate.

Obviously, looking at the Big 4 TV Networks, they have a time zone problem with their national morning and evening news, making it very difficult to simulcast live over the internet across the entire U.S. without upsetting their own and the local affiliate stations’ business “timing” model. CNN does not have that specific problem because most of their transmissions go out live at the same time all across the U.S. There seems to be little or no time zone day/prime time scheduling. The evening Piers Morgan Tonight talk interview is 9 – 10PM in the east and simultaneously 6 – 7PM in the west. The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer is 5 – 7PM east coast and simultaneously 2 – 4PM local west coast time. CNN seems to be the ideal cable channel for live cross country streaming, with perhaps the insertion of local commercials being the complicated part.

The “full service HD news” TV Stations may soon embrace 24/7 Internet streaming of local newscasts with local content in a separate “IPTV Channel”

Why not? A separate one way “IPTV Channel” which can be accessed by the viewer by a simple single click or keystroke, independent from and in addition to the TV station’s website, although with a website quick-link to the “IPTV Channel”.

Most TV stations are already on the internet with impressive looking websites, but often offering a confusing array of choices of news stories and video clips, and including the opportunity to view live simulcasts (and replays) of the local newscasts. But many potential viewers outside (and inside) the home do not have the time to navigate a fully featured website, preferring a 24/7-type CNN model adapted for the local and greater metro audiences, where all live newscasts (OTA/MVPD) are simulcast over the internet on the TV station’s own streaming “IPTV Channel”, possibly including live Big 4 network newscasts when such is on the air, if permitted, and then interleaved with local, regional, state-wide, national and world clips as time permits and as the “IPTV Channel” business model evolves. Excellence in local news delivery to all major TV viewing platforms is what will differentiate future DMA leadership, much more than in the past. And if the affiliate agreement with a Big 4 TV network currently excludes local simulcasts, the Big 4 will soon come around to see the advantages to permit such live simulcasts in the new world of “TV Everywhere”. Perhaps CNN will entertain supplying national and international news to local IPTV 24/7 news channels run by local TV stations?

And the TV station’s IPTV Channel may be the ideal feed for the Mobile DTV simulcast service.

The Four (4) Primary Delivery Paths:
Which path will decline? Which will grow?

Let’s look at the U.S. audience numbers. There are 120 million households in the U.S. of which 116 million are TV households, in turn about 12 million (10%) of those rely exclusively on OTA TV. That means that 104 million TV households (90%) subscribe to cable/satellite/telco TV, as the number of TV households receiving TV programs exclusively over the internet is rather small in 2011. Excluding the very young children (up to 10) and the older population (80+), we conclude that there are potentially 275 million people in the U.S. with the ability to independently select and turn on a TV program.

Let’s analyze the four (4) primary choices for TV station’s channel delivery to the local TV households.

ATSC Over-the-air – DTV and Mobile DTV

An estimated 12 million TV households rely exclusively on DTV OTA. In addition, millions of pay-TV subscribers may have a second or third TV set relying on DTV OTA. Also, millions of the OTA-only households do indeed subscribe to internet service, of which substantially all home internet connections in the future will be broadband wired to home modem/router with WiFi wireless within the home.

DTV OTA audience decline?
Yes, decline, because of the continuing increase in choice of TV programs available over the internet coupled with the newfound ease of program availability and selection through emergence of Smart TVs. The most decline will be in the OTA viewing of non-news/non-Big 4-affiliated TV stations, with the least decline in OTA viewing of full service news stations. And we can add the negative results of the FCC recommended “Spectrum Grab and Auction”.

Mobile DTV (ATSC M/H) audience growth?
Yes, growth, but will it ever be embraced by the “on-the-go” video watching audience in large enough numbers to make a real business model enhancement for the local TV stations? And how will the “FCC Spectrum Grab and Auction” affect the Mobile DTV build-out and progress? There are substantial potential upsides, with some serious reservations. (Another reason why the “IPTV Channel” simulcast may make a lot of business sense. See below.)

MVPD – Cable/Satellite/Telco TV
(MVPD – Multichannel Video Program Distributors)
Decline, as to a local TV station’s audience share through the local MVPD operators. Although total number of MVPD subscribers by 2015 may not decline much, the share and penetration will as the total number of U.S. TV households increase from 116 million in 2011 to over 120 million by 2015, by population increases. By comparison, in 2007, there were about 111 million TV households. Highly regarded cable oriented research firm SNL Kagan just released their findings that 4.5 million TV households will have “cut the MVPD cord” by end 2011 in favor of OTT, increasing to over 12 million by end 2015. The Author believes that the 12 million “cord cutting” number is conservative, and that there will be a more substantial exodus from MVPDs in favor of broadband internet delivered TV programs by 2015, concluding that a local TV station’s fortunes can no longer rely on MVPDs as their only primary audience reach vehicle.

Website (with HD News?)
Somewhat less important in the future, in the current forms. The Website is an absolute necessity for any TV station, as it is for any business today and in the future, but most full service news TV stations’ websites are very busy looking and sometimes confusing to navigate. Another problem is the very limited opportunity to stream in HD or even at high quality SD, as each visit to the website by the local audience is a “separate IP connection” each requiring a dedicated video stream for (on-demand) replays, necessitating streaming each of hundreds of streams concurrently at low quality video for server bandwidth reasons. Viewing such websites and low quality video on the emerging (larger screen) Smart TVs is likely to turn off the audience causing them to look for other higher quality presentations of local HD news (offered by competing TV stations). The Author’s conclusion is that the Website is somewhat less important in the future in the new world of OTT and Smart TVs to convey video clips unless streaming at a much higher quality (which may be difficult in an on-demand environment). The TV stations substantial investments in HD studio and live HD ENG equipment, personnel and facilities are not utilized on the website, as the fabulous HD images (even down-converted prime quality SD images) is not reaching the website visitors.

The TV Station’s own IPTV “News” Channel
Growth opportunity. The simplest form of “IPTV Channel” transmission is one-way from TV station server to the broadband internet users with just one IP multicast stream, with no viewer interactivity (feedback) capability, similar to the one-way broadcast OTA DTV transmissions. The IPTV Channel server streams in IP multicast mode over the public internet to unknown destinations (no prior knowledge of how many and where the IPTV receivers are), which stream is “tuned in” by interested viewers enabled by their broadband connected PCs, tablets, smart-phones and Smart TVs. However, as many as three simultaneous streams of the same program is required to match the various display resolution and the downlink bitrate capabilities of different delivery paths:

Consideration #1: IPTV Channel in HD to display on Smart TVs in homes
Suggested HD encoding is 720p30/60 at a bitrate range of 5 to 8 Mbps. This will also cover HD presentation on PC/laptop/tablet displays at home and on-the-go.

Consideration #2: IPTV Channel in SD to display on tablets and (hi-res) smart-phones on-the-go. Suggested SD encoding is wide 854x480p30 at a bitrate of about 2 Mbps. This will also cover high quality SD presentations on PC/laptop/tablet displays. In addition, this format may be the feed for the Mobile DTV (ATSC M/H) transmission.

Consideration #3: IPTV Channel in CIF (wide) to display on very small screen devices
Suggested low res encoding is wide 416x240p30 at a bitrate of about 400 Kbps. This will also cover simulcast streaming of the IPTV Channel through the TV station’s website.

IP Multicast over the Public Internet?
When we say “IPTV Channel”, we mean multicast IP streaming over the public internet, NOT an IPTV Channel delivered by private IP networks such as through AT&T U-verse (IPTV multicast) services, which are highly controlled (private) networks. Note that Cable TV and Telco TV, when delivering both TV channels and broadband internet services over a single “cable”, the two services are electronically fully separated with the broadband internet being the public part.

Any household connected with wired broadband to the public internet should be able to receive any multicast IP streaming it wants to “tune in”, but, up to now, the public internet infrastructure has not been fully “multicast enabled” to provide reliable and relatively high quality IPTV Channel reception in HD. However, new multicast transmission technologies are now being marketed promising to accomplish reliable live single stream IPTV Channel in multicast mode over the public internet.

TV Broadcasters’ simulcast “IPTV Channel”:
Assuring maximum Audience Reach

By 2015, Smart TVs and OTT will be a rapidly growing TV delivery system, likely to cause serious deterioration to today’s MVPD (cable/satellite/telco TV) business model and to cause decline in OTA home audience. The MVPD operators will surely modify their business models as they have already implemented through the TV Everywhere initiative. What have the TV broadcasters done so far? Not much . . . outside of spending efforts on mobile television (Mobile DTV) and offering comprehensive (sometimes confusing) websites. The IPTV Channel can be initiated now, as it appears that there is no government regulation impeding such implementation.

IPTV Channel Core: Local News, Weather, Traffic
Full service news TV stations (east & west coast) generally start local live weekday coverage at 5AM going to 7AM, with national network “good morning/news” shows from 7AM to 9AM. Late morning live local news may go from 11AM to Noon, with the live evening news starting with local news from 4PM to 6:30PM, with national evening news til 7PM. Then local late evening news live at 11PM for 30+ minutes. That’s 6 hours of live local news, weather, traffic. The affiliated national network covers an additional 2.5 hours of “good morning/evening news”, which may be available (sooner or later) for live simulcast on the IPTV Channel by affiliate agreement. A total of 8.5 hours of live daily news-related programs. If network and syndicated daytime and prime time programs on the DTV OTA channel are not released for the IPTV Channel, then replays of the news-related programs may be scheduled throughout the day and evening as a starting point for the IPTV Channel. The networks and the syndicators will come around, sooner or later.

Mobile DTV simulcast of live IPTV Channel?
The Author believes that the IPTV Channel is significantly more important for audience reach than the Mobile DTV OTA. There seems to be wishful thinking in certain TV broadcasting quarters that the Mobile DTV service will be widely received by Mobile DTV capable devices within the home. With broadband wired to the home and Wi-Fi within the TV household, why would Mobile DTV reception within the home be widespread? It is not a likely scenario. Mobile DTV, if substantially embraced by the consumers at large, will be received on-the-road while travelling in vehicles and in fixed locations such as airports and public establishments. An initial approach for Mobile DTV would be to simulcast the IPTV Channel, as the IPTV Channel may be launched in the shorter term with a relatively large viewer potential far ahead of any immediate viewer potential for Mobile DTV, because very few consumers will have Mobile DTV capable receivers/displays in 2011 or even in 2012.

HD News & HD ENG make you highly competitive

The TV station with full service weekday HD newscasts is no doubt a local ratings leader, already producing 5 or 6 hours of live news, weather and traffic each day, and obviously competing with one or two other TV stations for the number one position in the DMA. The local news events are the same for all TV stations, thus the basic news storyline is potentially the same for all full service news TV stations in the same DMA. The differentiation is in the talent, in the quality and promptness of the news clips aired, and in the delivery vehicles used.

JVC Broadcast has over the past several years become the leading supplier of professional HD news acquisition products in North America. The ProHD label offers cost effective HD camcorders and HD studio cameras purpose-designed for broadcast quality on-air performance and ease of operation. Group Station Owners all over North America have adopted ProHD and successfully transitioned to HD news and live HD ENG.

Working directly with JVC, broadcasters have access to products tailored especially for their needs. The GY-HM700LL, GY-HM750LL and GY-HM790LL, the three most popular cameras, have JVC’s exclusive LoLux feature, enabling them to capture pictures in extremely low light environments. LoLux was developed to assist television journalists when it is not possible to use external lighting. LoLux goes beyond the normal gain boost to produce broadcast acceptable imagery under the most challenging situations.

The TV Station and IPTV Channel “Duopoly” . . .
A single click away

The real challenge in the emerging world of Smart TVs is to make it easy for the interested and committed viewers to access your TV station’s live program whether DTV OTA, MVPD retransmission or the simulcast IPTV Channel, first and foremost at home. This is likely to involve the availability of a simple app download which icon will appear on the Smart TVs’ “Home Page”. Clicking on the icon will rapidly retrieve the IPTV Channel or perhaps present a simple selection window on the Smart TV screen where OTA, MVPD or IPTV can be selected. An alternate way of quickly retrieving your IPTV Channel may be by saving as favorite channel. You get the drift: As the number of TV/video programs available to the broadband wired home audience increases “exponentially” over the next several years, and as many of these OTT programs may be as easy to access through Smart TVs as clicking on a channel number on a TV/STB remote today, your TV station has no other option but to initiate a simulcast IPTV Channel with “a single click access”.

A number of issues need to be resolved over time, such as possible geographical limits on the streaming of prime time network programs, for the mutual protection of networks and TV stations. No one wants an uncontrolled breakdown of time zone issues, where California OTT viewers may “tune in” the IPTV Channel of a New York TV station and watch a first run prime time episode live 3 hours early, Start with local HD news, weather and traffic, and local content, and possible syndicated shows without time-of-day or geographical limitations. Your IPTV Channel is essential for your future existence, in the opinion of the Author, just as leadership in local HD news is “future existence insurance”.


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