Future of Diginets?

Discussion in 'Over the Air TV By RabbitEars.Info' started by zeebre12, Feb 13, 2017.

  1. Is there a future for subchannels? What do you think the future of diginets will be in 5/10 years? How do you think they will adapt? Will there be a reduction in number? Will they acquire more current programming/ original programming as they cant really keep showing reruns forever can they? Will they change much?
  2. Firstly, there is a difference between subchannels and diginets. So long as there is broadcast television, there will be subchannels with programming.

    Regarding diginets, that's an awfully broad question. Since the auction is a hot topic now, I'm going to start there.

    I don't believe the auction will spell the end or will force many big diginets to go dark. Even losing some audience in some markets (likely around 10-15% per market), the big nets with large market coverage, such as MeTV, Antenna, COZI, BUZZR, This, The Justice Network, and the Katz' bunch, or any net with a substantial full-power audience, their cable reach will remain substantial and likely profitable all by itself.

    Consider this, assuming each market's OTA only audience is 15% while cable only (or cable and OTA) audience is 40% with a satellite only (or sat and OTA) at 45%. That might be off, as i rounded cable only down and OTA high, but you can assume higher or lower one way or the other.

    The reason I put up those numbers helps argue the point that a diginet will likely stay with a full power station that goes off-the-air due to their auction sale rather than trying to find a different affiliate in that market that will provide OTA coverage. No doubt it'd be the case of diginets who found their way to air on the primary signal of a station who has satellite coverage. I'm thinking unless the net could find another station, in those markets, who broadcasts full-power and has the same ability to distribute to get the same or better cable coverage, they will not want to shy away from their stations, even those who's broadcast signal went dark.

    However, the fact that a station is dark doesn't mean a network can't have a contract with an current affiliate that allows them to find another affiliate in the same market, restricting that secondary affiliate to OTA only, as a means of recooperating some or all of the lost audience. If that is the case, it's likely the net will have to resort to LPs only as FPs would likely want to distribute (especially if they share ad time). Also, it's unfavorable that a network would want to do that, risking the possibility that the off-air affiliate drops the network for lack of exclusivity, even though they're not broadcasting the network, only distributing the fee for cable, leaving the network with an LP that brings the market's audience down as much as 25% or more.

    Remember, we don't know which stations are going off vs. going to hi or lo-VHF, and we don't know the one's who will stay put or have to move down the UHF band. Consider that some nets, MeTV i.e., works with 9 different station owners comprising of the top 10 markets carrying the network, whereas BUZZR has 2 different station owners comprising their top 10 stations. If CBS Corporation drops their stations, MeTV only loses OTA audience in one of their top 10 stations. If the FOX Television Stations group drops all of their stations, BUZZR loses OTA audience in 9 of the top 10 markets, a much bigger hit. Mind you, I don't think either group is dropping every station. Every network's going to see different losses. It's almost a certainty that each network will lose some audience.

    As for programming, I think it would be silly to make a prediction as to what we think they will do as time goes on. We're seeing a small swing of nets pushing for newer programming. When I say newer, I mean slightly newer. These are acquisitions, of course. I think the biggest example of this is Antenna TV, whose programming acquisitions have trended newer than the have in the past, though keeping the classic TV theme. Original programming hasn't exactly been the mantra for nets because of a net's budget. That might change, it might not. Time will tell.

    As for the last question, the nets can certainly rerun shows until the end of time. Those programs will change, of course, as demand changes. Decades from now, the old folk will enjoy watching reruns of Friends and Seinfeld on MeTV and will crack up and tell the young'uns how funny Steve Harvey was on Family Feud watching BUZZR, all while complaining about how much they can't stand the new stuff on TV, if TVs exist at the time.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  3. If a network gets squeezed out of the largest markets (where the competition for bandwidth is the greatest), the impact on viewership will likely be much greater than you suppose. The top ten markets represent upwards of 30% of the eyeballs.
    That information will likely become available some time in the next four weeks so it is probably best not to speculate at this time.
    This thinking was the basis of Game Show Network and Soapnet. Soapnet is gone and GSN isn't exactly topping the charts with historical programming.

    From a technical standpoint, I think if ATSC 3.0 is to make a run of it, more than a few of the diginets will disappear at least temporarily in order that all the "important" networks can be simulcast. Again, we'll have to wait until April to begin to see what shakes out in the repack.

    The problem for oldies is that the financial motivation isn't there to justify displacing other channels that represent a better financial proposition. I expect that some TV that the stations are paying to carry are going to give way to networks that pay to have their content shown.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  4. Hopefully KC and Orlando don't lose any stations it does opens space for another full power station.
  5. Could we see more of the diginets going on satellite/cable like GetTV and Grit as well as broadcast?
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  6. I'm going to make a prediction here that many of you won't like, but it's how I think things are going. To give some background, consider that back in around the year 2000, most people still had corded wireline telephones. Cell phones were just starting to become affordable to the masses, and VoIP wouldn't start to become a thing for another year or two. In short, for most people, the idea of having a home without a wireline phone was still unthinkable. Nowadays your grandparents may still have a wireline phone, but even if they do there's a good chance it's connected to a cable phone service or VoIP device, not to the old wireline phone company. Still, there are a small but significant number of people who continue to hang onto wireline service, while their kids and grandkids snicker at them behind their backs. And that transformation took place over the span of 10-15 years.

    I think it's going to be similar with TV. My belief is that traditional over the air television is going away, for a simple reason: More and more people are refusing to watch "appointment TV". People want to watch when they want to watch, not when a network or a local TV station decides they should watch. And in some markets where the local TV stations use excessive graphics overlays during network shows (weather radar and similar crap), people just want to be able to see their shows without the annoying overlays. So my belief is that over the next few years, TV as we know it is going away, and it will be replaced by devices that let you watch the shows you want to watch on demand. The other major move is that people more and more resent paying for a bundle of channels they don't care about to get maybe a few shows a week that they really want to watch. If I watch only a few shows a week, I don't need 200 channels, or 20. I just need access to those particular shows.

    Most diginets are kind of the antithesis of what people really want. They are appointment television, they are loaded with commercials, and in most cases their shows are standard def. Nostalgia can only carry a network so far, and while grandmas and grandpas with failing eyesight might not care as much about seeing shows in high def, I think younger people certainly do, and will. And then there are older people like me, I'm technically a senior citizen but I still hate watching anything in standard def and I loathe 4x3 content that is "stretched" to 16x9. So my feeling is that if they are going to survive, they will need to transform themselves into a service that offers shows digitally.

    The great unknown in all this, at least in the United States, is what kind of Internet access people are going to have a few years from now. If the greedy broadband providers keep trying to impose overly restrictive usage caps, or start to price broadband out of reach for lower-income Americans, it will delay the migration to viewing everything online, because nothing beats free. I can record my shows from an antenna or dish, skip the commercials, and watch when I want without paying a dime, provided they're on one of the channels I can receive.

    But, what I have thought for a while now is that some smart company ought to buy a crapload of satellite capacity on a strong Ku satellite (so you can use a smaller dish) and start sending programs as data. The way I envision it, it would work like this. You buy or build a satellite/data receiver and hook it to a Ku-band satellite dish pointed at a specific spot in the sky, and also to an Internet connection. You then request in advance of the normal airing time specific shows you want to see, using an online app or the receiver itself, and that information is transmitted (via the Internet) back to the provider. At or shortly before the normal airing time, the company sends a data stream containing the entire show, compressed using RAR format using parity checking. If any part of the transmission is corrupted by bad or missing data, the receiver requests (via the Internet) as many PAR files as are necessary to fix the compressed file*. At the appointed time the receiver uncompresses the RAR file and makes the program available to watch. It contains short (no more that 20 seconds) ad spots, so that for most viewers it will be more trouble to find the remote and skip the ad than just let it play, although that could certainly be done.

    The receiver would optionally try to learn your preferences and record shows you might like, even if you forget to schedule them for recording. There would also be a way to play a limited amount of "live" content in near real time (mainly news and sports) which would be similar to the way TV is transmitted today. The advantages are that very little Internet data is used (only to request PAR files for fixing momentary signal dropouts) and if no one schedules a show, then they don't need to transmit it (and they know what's not popular). If someone forgets to record a show, and the receiver hasn't yet "learned" that they usually do watch that show, it can still request that it be resent via satellite during a low-usage overnight period, so it will be available the next day, or immediately over the Internet if you don't have overly-restrictive usage caps. In this type of scheme, all providers could participate; they would essentially act as sources for various programs and then make arrangements to have those programs sent over the data stream. Although, it would be equally doable if a big company such as Netflix, Amazon, or Google wanted to start such a service and only offer programs they can obtain the rights to.

    The only way this would work is if the receiver were fairly low cost and if most programs were free or very cheap. I realize that the program providers have to make money somehow but let's face it, sooner or later advertisers are going to wake up and realize that a whole lot of people are skipping their ads. Once that happens, I think a lot of over the air and cable services are going to see the waterfall of money become more like a dripping faucet. I think you can get away with ONE short ad during an ad break (which of course would command a premium price) but if it's too long or if there are more than one, people will skip them. You kind of have to use the old Bill Drake-style radio philosophy - get back to what people really want to hear (or see in this case) as quickly as possible, so they don't tune out. And that is something I think some of the Diginet operators won't get, and they will find themselves with an ever-shrinking audience.

    Put it this way, let's say you have five long ad spots during a break and you get $10,000 a piece but no one watches them, or you pare it down to one short break of 15-20 seconds and charge $50,000, but 50% to 75% of your viewers don't bother to skip it. Which is really the better value to the advertiser?

    In any case, it is my belief that local broadcasters are on borrowed time. Like the big phone companies, they will be slow to completely die out, but they are going to have to change and adapt, and they probably will only really be relevant for local programming in several years. People are not going to watch network shows (assuming the networks even still exist) over local TV stations. What a lot of folks really hate is local stations and cable broadcasters messing with the show in any way, from pre-empting it for some kind of local or paid content to those stupid graphic overlays I mentioned earlier. I even hate it when you go to watch something on a network web site and they display the local station's logo in the corner - all I can think is, "why, exactly, do we still need local stations for non-local content, and why are they messing with the network video?"

    I didn't mean to write a book here, but the bottom line here is that I think 15 years from now the way people view video will be considerably different than the way they do it today. Devices like the Roku are the precursor but I suspect we will see even more developments in technology before the dust settles.

    * If you don't know what RAR and PAR files are, you probably never downloaded any big files from Usenet back in the day. See this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parchive - the beauty of the system was that for each damaged "chunk" of data, you only needed a similar number of PAR files to fix the problem, and they could be ANY of the PAR files in the set. So if, for example, you had five bad "chunks" of data, you would just grab PAR files equating to five or more chunks, didn't matter which PAR files as long as you had the at least the same number of chunks as you had bad chunks in the original. I never understood how that worked; it always seemed a little like black magic to me. But for example if you sent programs as data streams, you could then also send a few of the PAR files afterward and using the proper software, reconstruct the original data stream even if you had a small number of transmission errors.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  7. A new diginet called "TBD" launched on Sinclair owned and operated stations today, including WLUK-TV 11-3 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
  8. I don't see how a reduction in the number of diginets available OTA in a given market is avoidable once broadcasters in that market begin broadcasting in ATSC 3.0. There's only so much spectrum available and it's now reduced after the auction. Once 3.0 broadcasts begin, that will further restrict the number of different networks that can be carried since some of them will be duplicated on 1.0 and 3.0. Nationally, I doubt we'll see any of the biggest diginets (Me-TV, COZI, Antenna TV, etc.) go away in the next few years but in time I think we'll see some of the smaller ones die off.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  9. One station could carry all the diginets on a single ATSC 3.0 transmission if they wanted.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  10. The coming death of regular network OTA broadcasts is quite exagerated. OTA television will continue for many decades into the future. Broadcasting, both for the networks and for the pure bandits that own local stations, remains a government granted quasi-monopoly and license to print money.

    And there is no real reason not to do .2 (.3 .4 .5) channels. Mostly just these rerun deals, but also some foreign language, stuff like Sinclair's ASN, eventually a national news channel, and on. The sales staff is there, the programming is virtually free, the transmission costs are zero, and, even at the proverbial "dollar a holler" it is PURE PROFIT.

    And, "cord cutting" has little to do with it. It helps in fact. Cord cutters (which there is a limit to) will still supplement their viewing with FREE local TV. And then there is a little thing called poor people. 10 to 20 channels for FREE including the networks, a goofy off-brand sports channel, some preachers, and a dozen rerun channel is a good deal. In the 80s and even into the 90s, people PAID for that exact thing. It was called "full cable".
    jamesjimcie and N5XZS like this.
  11. That's true, if that's how broadcasters wish to use their ATSC 3.0 bandwidth. Given the greater efficiency of the HEVC (h.265) codec that will be used in 3.0, I don't see as much of a squeeze there. It's on the 1.0 side where I foresee subchannels/diginets getting dropped.

    The key to making the 1.0 to 3.0 transition happen will be frequency sharing between broadcasters, something that I think will be explicitly allowed to happen when the FCC approves the voluntary rollout of 3.0 broadcasts late this year. I haven't seen any detailed scenarios of what that might look like, so I'll write one up here. Please feel free to respond but keep in mind that this is all conjecture based on what I've read so far.

    Imagine it's 2021 here in my local TV market, Nashville. The local affiliates for six of the biggest national broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and The CW) are all broadcasting in both 1.0 and 3.0. Between their six broadcast towers/antennas, three are transmitting in 1.0 and three in 3.0. On the 1.0 side, two of the towers each carry three 720p HD channels (the main HD feeds for ABC, CBS and PBS on one, the main HD feeds for NBC, Fox and The CW on the other) while the third 1.0 tower carries six SD subchannels, one from each station. Right now, each of those stations carry two SD subchannels, with the exception of the PBS affiliate, which only has one. So that would be a reduction from 11 to 6 SD subchannels among those six broadcasters in this scenario.

    On the 3.0 side, there are two stations per tower. During the day, they split the available bandwidth equally, each airing a mix of channels in HD (1080p or 720p) and possibly SD. Given the increased bandwidth of 3.0 (about 25 Mbps vs. 19 Mbps for 1.0?), along with 3-4x greater encoding efficiency of HEVC vs. MPEG-2, there would be plenty of bandwidth available for each station to carry all the diginets they now have. (But will the FCC allow broadcasters to carry networks on their 3.0 signals that aren't also offered on their 1.0 signals? I don't think I've ever read anything about that.) During primetime, I would guess that the two stations sharing a tower would have to trade off times when they could transmit shows in UHD 2160p, as that probably will require more than half of the tower's available bandwidth. And when a station chooses to broadcast in UHD, that may mean they couldn't broadcast any 3.0 subchannels at the same time.

    Obviously, there are lots of different arrangements between broadcasters that can and will be reached and how things look in one market may differ from another. But it seems reasonable to assume that, as more stations begin broadcasting in 3.0, we'll see among 1.0 signals a degradation in picture quality, fewer subchannels, or both.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  12. How many channels are you supposing that they can fit in the bandwidth of one channel?

    I'm guessing that it is around 4 HD streams per channel. In some of the larger markets, there are currently stream counts of both HD and SD content numbering in the dozens.

    If the quality is relatively poor the public won't voluntarily buy in based on assurances. ATSC 3.0 has to be demonstrably better than DTV.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  13. I posted the projections in one of the other threads. The projections (and I'm going from my admittedly hap hazard memory, as I didn't go looking for it) using h265 encoding were 1 UHD channel, 4-6 HD or 16-20 SD channels or a combination of that mix.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  14. I suspect that your estimates are generous at this point, but I would ask where you came up with the theory that they could put "all" the diginets on a single frequency. My market has quite a few diginets; one channel (KPXG) currently carries seven and another carries five (KNMT) with one of the subchannels doing half days of two diginets. All the "bigs" have at least two diginet subchannels so I'm guessing that we have around 23 diginets (give or take) in the Portland DMA.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  15. Not my estimates. The projections were from the group behind the atsc 3.0 proposal.
    I know there are a lot of diginets (I think we have 15 or 20) but just like with PayTV, some of them need to go away or go online only as they're nothing more than a glorified long form commercial.
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  16. In this day and age, we're getting kind of jaded about projections for the success of compression (lossy or otherwise). Incredible often transitions into overly optimistic; especially in terms of real-time compression. There is a whole lot of technology that needs to become a little more mainstream and a whole lot more affordable before this happens and it surely isn't something that can be done incrementally with software. All the while, the end product has to be perceptibly superior.

    The infomercial channels (Guthy-Renker et al) pay their way so as with PayTV, they probably won't be among the first channels to go away.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  17. Could some of the large companies like A&E, Viacom, Discovery, Fox launch free to air diginets in the future with older programs from their channels? They have adopted this model in the UK where companies like FOX, A&E and Discovery have launched free to air channels like YourTV, Blaze and Quest with repeats from their pay TV channels and some exclusive content. Could this model be adopted for diginets in the US? Or why have they not? I'm surprised some haven't already with diginets like Justice Network and Escape having reruns of programs from channels such as A&E, ID and Crime & Investigation.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  18. Probably not. UK TV and US TV have two entirely different funding models and the US funding model doesn't lend itself to what you're proposing. Watching old science programming can be like watching old news programs and having to pick through the stuff that's still relevant surely isn't trivial.

    Couple that with the difficulty that some of those channels are having with coming up with new compelling content needed to fill their current air time and too many cable channels.
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  19. One market I could see the new upgrade helping is Alpena, Michigan. Alpena, Michigan is a small marke that has only has two channels in their market, PBS and CBS. I would like to talk about the latter, known as WBKB-TV 11 whose main affiliate is CBS with a multiplexed signal, with two subchannels, a Fox/MynetworkTV affiliate on 11.2 and an ABC affiliate on 11.3. Hopefully, they'll add an NBC affiliate to that station on 11.4 in the future, and The CW on 11.5 and Ion Television on 11.6 (right now, The CW is only found on cable in Alpena).
    jamesjimcie likes this.
  20. The repack is reducing the supply of available channels and I'm confident that Alpenans don't want any more channels (they may want different channels but that's a different issue) on RF11 than they already have. If they were to add another, the CBS stream would likely have to go SD and that would be a bitter pill to choke down.

    I suspect there may also be some issues with individual networks wanting to appear in HD or not at all.
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