[opendtv] Re: DTT in the US

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 6 Jan 2006 08:45:05 -0500

At 11:32 AM -0500 1/5/06, Manfredi, Albert E wrote:
>So you agree that it isn't ATSC specifically these CE guys
>aren't interested in, but rather freeview in the US. But
>according to a recent Mark's Memo, it appears that OTA TV
>is actually used by some 22 percent of US households rather
>than 15 percent, so I think you are probably way off base
>on this.

The list would benefit tremendously Bert, if you would adopt ONE New 
year's resolution.

Stop trying to argue by changing the subject.

I DO NOT agree that they are interested in Freeview as opposed to 
ATSC. Freeview was not part of the discussion. The discussion in 
question began with:

Bob Miller wrote:

>  > While they seem to want to put their minds to MediaFlo,
>  > DVB-H, T-DMB and ISDB-T, they seem to have some
>  > aversion to ATSC.
>What do they have the aversion to? ATSC, or providing
>hardware for non-subscription services, or some other
>excuse we've yet to unfathom?

The discussion was about mobile reception and the desires of certain 
companies to create products for the mobile market. My response was 
specifically directed at this issue. There is NO POTENTIAL MARKET for 
mobile ATSC reception in the U.S.

No reasonable human would want to walk about with a battery pack on 
their belt and a big antenna on their head to receive ATSC broadcasts 
on an ATSC enabled mobile phone. Simply stated, the U.S. has chosen a 
broadcast DTV system for which mobile reception is never going to be 
a practical reality. Instead, these companies are betting that as 
spectrum becomes available for mobile TV applications in the U.S., 
that an appropriate technology will be used to deliver that service. 
In the U.S. that appears to be MediaFlo, and possibly DVB-H.

>(29 Dec 2005 memo: 51% of those surveyed had cable, which
>is a lot lower than NCTA's 66.8% in February.  26% had
>satellite, which seems pretty close to other estimates, but
>22% used off-air reception, which is higher than other

It's just another survey Bert. There is no way of telling if it is 
any more accurate than any other that has been advanced by parties 
with a financial interest in the eventual outcome. In fact, the 51% 
cable subscription rate is HIGHLY suspect, calling the entire survey 
into question.

One thing I can guarantee - the people who responded that they were 
watching "off-air," were NOT watching ATSC.

>>  Broadcasters have NO current interest in competing with
>>  cable and DBS
>I'm not sure how this differs in Europe. However,
>broadcasters ought to behave like any other business, and
>pay attention to their what their customers are asking for.
>(Assuming they don't already do this, of course.) If
>customers refuse to be coerced into a subscription scheme,
>the free market should accommodate that (unless there's
>illegal funny business going on).

It differs from Europe in a very basic way. Broadcasters in Europe 
expect to pay something for carriage - they do not expect to be 
compensated for the programming they deliver by other distribution 
competitors. There is no equivalent to must carry and re-transmission 
consent in Europe. All carriage is negotiated, and content producers 
are aggressive about getting their programs carried by cable, 
satellite, and now Free-to-air DTV services.

In the latest round of bidding, completed in November, Channel 4 - a 
U.K. terrestrial broadcast service - bid in excess of 10 million 
pounds for the right to program a channel on Freeview.

Contrast this with U.S. broadcasters who are looking for subscriber 
fees from cable and DBS for BOTH their analog and DTV channels. How 
is it that broadcasters in the UK can make enough money on their 
Fre-to-air service, to pay the bills and then pay more than 15 
million each year to get the same content on Freeview? How can they 
survive without the additional subscriber fees?

How is it that U.S. broadcasters, who operate with some of the 
highest profit margins of ANY business in the world, cannot compete 
with cable and DBS to offer a service like Freeview, but rather, wish 
to EXTEND the status quo, by demanding multicast must carry, and 
compensation for the content they broadcast for free?

The answer is simple Bert: BECAUSE THEY CAN!

As long as broadcasters can control key content franchises, they do 
not need to be responsive to the needs of their customers. Viewers in 
the U.S. have become accustomed to paying for content, so the 
broadcasters are more than happy to get on the gravy train, as their 
lucrative franchise slowly rides west into the sunset.

And yes there is plenty of funny business going on. Unfortunately, 
thanks to political gerrymandering in the U.S. it is completely legal 

>>  I am preparing a lengthy message

Funny, I have been saving up your questions and comments on this 
subject so that i can respond in a meaningful manner. I guess it's 
like talking to a wall.

>But we've been over this many times. There is still, no
>matter whether the actual percentage is 15 or 22, an
>enormous number of households who "say no" to this
>addiction that you claim everyone suffers from. Compared
>with individual Euro markets, e.g. the UK DTT market, even
>15 percent of US households is a huge number. And that
>doesn't even include the OTA users who also subscribe to
>an umbillical service.

And your point is?

We have a viable OTA service in the U.S.

It is called NTSC.

There are tens of millions of useful NTSC receivers in the U.S. It 
should come as no surprise that some people continue to use this 
service, since you count yourself among the holdouts. And it should 
come as no surprise that some of the people who do not subscribe to a 
multichannel TV service do not watch the Free-toair service either.

What IS relevant is that the percentage of homes that still rely 
exclusively on the OTA service continues to decline, and, IF there is 
a hard cut-off of the NTSC service, a significant percentage of these 
homes will elect to subscribe to a multi-channel service rather than 
switching to the new ATSC service. Without a Freeview equivalent in 
the U.S. the OTA broadcast TV service will atrophy and die.

>>  How many of those multiplexes duplicate the same content
>>  for different markets?
>None, as far as I can tell. Each of the DTT stations has
>created a different set of multicasts, which is exactly
>as I had predicted. The main -1 channel might be the same
>*during prime time*, but otherwise these are different
>multiplexes. I agree that many subchannels are not all
>that interesting (e.g. one of the local station's -2
>stream is just the weather radar picture), but the concept
>is still correct, IMO, and the potential is enormous.

Get real Bert. I'm not talking about the sub channel crap. I am 
talking about the content that is of interest to a significant 
audience. During prime time the primary channel on the Baltimore and 
Washington multiplexes carry the SAME network content. As for the 
rest, it all comes from the same pool of syndicated content that is 
available in every market. The time may vary when it is carried in 
one market versus another, but in a full broadcast week, you will 
find that more than 75% will be duplicated between markets.

And this ignores the reality that the 78% (using your NY Post survey) 
who subscribe to a multichannel service,  spend more than 60% of 
their time watching content that is NOT AVAILABLE on ANY of these 
broadcast DTV multiplexes. Yet in the markets where USDTV is 
providing a paid multichannel DTV service, hardly anyone is 
subscribing, as was the case in the UK with On Digital; the product 
offer is insufficient relative to the competition.

I agree that the POTENTIAL for a FREE multichannel DTV service is 
enormous. But that potential will not be realized by the broadcasters 
who currently occupy the beach front spectrum, for a simple reason...


>>  Sorry Bert, but your situation is NOT representative of
>>  how the NTSC or ATSC broadcast services were designed
>>  to work. You just happen to live in an area where the
>>  signals from two markets overlap,
>Well, you got enough responses on that score, Craig, and
>many of us simply disagree with you. Many OTA users do
>very much take advantage of adjacent markets, and that's
>IN FACT one of the advantages that OTA has over the
>umbillical media.

I can understand how you consider this to be an advantage considering 
the reality that you are highly limited in program choice at any 
given moment in time. I would only add, that if EACH market had a 
viable multichannel service (aka Freeview) that there would be no 
need to pull in mostly duplicated programming from adjacent markets.

>In Europe, the situation is different. In Europe, OTA
>works much as it would here in the US *if* the FCC
>eliminated their national caps entirely. This would
>create a number of nationwide OTA networks. If that were
>true here as well, *then* you might have a point. But
>that's not the situation in the US today, so what
>affilated stations transmit is NOT the same.

Agreed. But the stuff that people actually watch in significant 
numbers IS the same.

#1 - Network programming
#2 - Popular syndicated programming (Oprah and Dr. Phil)
#3 - Off network programming that is in syndication

What is different is local news, the commercials, and the infrequent 
locally produced program.

You can call this variety if you like. As a cable subscriber it would 
be like having two TBS, two FX and two ABC family channels with 
slight offsets in their program schedules.

  The reality is that we can have a viable free-to-air multichannel 
service that provides REAL programming choice, without sacrificing 
the benefits of a local market orientation. But this is only likely 
to happen AFTER the existing DTV broadcast service collapses. And by 
then it may not matter, as most of us will simply be downloading the 
content we want and telling cable and DBS where to stick it too.

>Also, most ATSC broadcast stations today are at power
>levels similar to what you find in Europe. In DC, 4 of
>the 8 multiplexes are well below 1 MW. These 4 are
>transmitting 232 KW, 194 KW, 67 KW, 65 KW.

They are trying to minimize the bleeding of paying two power bills. 
If and when the NTSC service goes dark they will boost their DTV 
signals to the full authorized power levels.

>In Baltimore, 5 of the 8 multiplexes are transmitting
>way under 1 MW. These are 349 KW, 140 KW, and three
>stations are at 50 KW.

More evidence that high power levels are not needed.

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