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US regulators approve new TV broadcasting tech that boasts superior picture but has less privacy

Image credit: DT

ATSC 3.0, a new technology designed to improve image quality on a range of devices, has been approved by US regulators, although concerns remain about its privacy implications.

The new format can support 4K broadcasts at 60 frames per second while providing more services to the viewer thanks to its increased bandwidth efficiency and compression performance.

But consumer advocates have noted that is also allows advertisers to run targeted advertising and more directly track viewer ratings rather than indirectly by companies such as Nielsen ratings.

The US Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to allow broadcasters to voluntarily use the new technology.

The system uses precision broadcasting and targets emergency or weather alerts on a street-by-street basis. It could allow broadcasters to wake up a receiver to broadcast emergency alerts including maps, storm tracks and evacuation routes.

But aside from privacy implications, other criticisms of the technology include its incompatibility with older devices that are still using ATSC 1.0.

The simultaneous broadcast of both formats may lead to potential downgrades in service for ATSC 1.0 viewers.

The UK is currently not using the technology, but multiple Korean broadcasters are already delivering ATSC 3.0 services and off-the-shelf consumer displays are able to receive the signal off the air.

Current televisions in the US cannot carry the new signal and the FCC on Thursday said it was only requiring broadcasting both signals for five years after deploying the next-generation technology.

Sinclair Broadcast Group last month called the new standard “the Holy Grail” for the advertiser because it tells them who is watching and where.

But Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan said the new technology “contemplates targeted advertisements that would be ‘relevant to you and what you actually might want to see.’ This raises questions about how advertisers and broadcasters will gather the demographic information from consumers which are necessary to do targeted advertisements.”

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the new technology would force consumers to buy new televisions. “The FCC calls this approach market driven. That’s right — because we will all be forced into the market for new television sets or devices.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended the proposal, calling concerns about buying new devices “hypothetical.” He added five years is “a long time. We’ll have to see how the standard develops.”

One issue is whether broadcasters will be able to pass on the costs of advanced broadcast signals through higher retransmissions fees and demand providers carry the signals.

Many companies have raised concerns about costs, including the US’ largest mobile networks AT&T and Verizon. Cable, satellite and other pay TV providers “would incur significant costs to receive, transmit, and deliver ATSC 3.0 signals to subscribers, including for network and subscriber equipment,” Verizon said.

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