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'Next Generation' Television Arrives In Cincinnati Sept. 14

WSTR-TV's tower on Winton Road will be the "lighthouse" tower transmitting "NextGenTV" signals for WKRC-TV, WLWT-TV, WCPO-TV and WXIX-TV starting Sept. 14.
Courtesy WKRC-TV
WSTR-TV's tower on Winton Road will be the "lighthouse" tower transmitting "NextGenTV" signals for WKRC-TV, WLWT-TV, WCPO-TV and WXIX-TV starting Sept. 14.

New 'NextGenTV' technology merges over-the-air TV with the internet enabling broadcasters to compete better with streaming services

The latest TV technology – ultra high definition video, theater-like sound, and an app for video on demand or live viewing on your cell phone or tablet – arrives in Cincinnati at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14.

"NextGenTV," also called ATSC 3.0, will enable local broadcasters to compete better with streaming services.

The WatchNextGenTVwebsite describes the ATSC 3.0 upgrade as "merging over-the-air TV with the internet," allowing local stations to "personalize their news, sports, live events and shows with interactive features that give viewers the content that’s most relevant to them."

ATSC 3.0 is the new standard devised by the Advanced Television Systems Committee Inc. (ATSC), the international nonprofit organization which develops digital TV standards. ATSC 3.0 eventually will replace ATSC 1.0, which debuted in 1996 for the conversion from analog to digital TV.

Media conglomerates which operate Cincinnati's TV stations – Hearst (WLWT-TV), E.W. Scripps (WCPO-TV), Sinclair (WKRC-TV, WSTR-TV) and Gray Television (WXIX-TV) – have set aside their fierce competition for viewers and joined forces in NextGenTV to battle streamers and cable companies.

Sinclair's WSTR-TV's tower on Winton Road in College Hill will be Cincinnati's so-called "lighthouse" station, transmitting the NextGenTV 3.0 signals for the five full-power commercials stations. Public TV stations WCET-TV and WPTO-TV are not participating in this project.

To make room for "NextGenTV, some of WSTR-TV's channels will become digital subchannels on WLWT-TV, WXIX-TV and WCPO-TV on 10 a.m. Sept. 14. So people who watch TV over-the-air by antenna must rescan their TVs on Sept. 14, the day after most Cincinnati TV stations change their daytime lineups for the fall TV season. That's why WKRC-TV has been airing announcements instructing over-the-air viewers to rescan their TVs on Sept. 14.

Those who watch TV with cable or a satellite dish will not be impacted. The reception of current signals for Cincinnati's other stations also will not change.

To receive NextGenTV, viewers either will need a NextGenTV tuner (already built into some newer sets) or a "gateway" adapter similar to Roku, Apple TV or Chromcast devices that bring digital features to existing TV sets. Those with NextGenTV ATSC 3.0 will need to rescan their sets Sept. 14, too.

Jeff Brogan, WCPO-TV vice president and general manager, says there "aren't many ATSC 3.0 enabled TV's being sold in the market." However, NextGenTV sets and converter boxes will be shipped to stores here when stations begin broadcasting the format, says Jay Adrick of Madeira, a former Harris Broadcast executive who was vice chair of the ATSC when the decision was made to develop 3.0.

NextGenTV sets and converters also now are available online from B&H Photo Video, Amazon and other national distributors, Adrick says.

All the local full-power commercial stations will retain their original channel numbers (5, 9, 12, 19, 64) in the NextGenTV 3.0 broadcasts from the Star 64 tower. "In return, all of us will add at least one of WSTR's current broadcasts to our current broadcast spectrum," says Debbie Bush, WXIX-TV vice president and general manager.

WSTR-TV's My Network TV on 64.1 will become a multicast channel on WLWT-TV; the TBD network on 64.4 will move to WXIX-TV's Channel 19.7. But they will continue to show up on HDTV sets as their current Channel 64 designations.

Three manufacturers – Sony, Samsun and LG Electronics – are leading the way on NextGenTV. Find more information at watchnextgnetv.

The NextGenTV site calls ATSC 3.0 technology "the biggest leap forward in TV in years and combines the benefits of broadcast with broadband TV viewing." Like current over-the-air TV broadcasts, "NextGenTV will primarily be a free service for viewers. In the future, there may be major events that are available only on a pay-per-view basis," the site says.

The new technology will enable stations to provide data, downloadable content for playbacks and multi-screen options giving different perspectives for baseball or football games, says Adrick, a broadcast consultant for Cavell, Mertz & Associates, which works with the Federal Communications Commission.

"There will be a lot of different applications that will be implemented as 3.0 rolls out," including enabling broadcasters to target advertising to specific viewer profiles, Adrick says.

Although NextGenTV set owners will receive the enhanced viewing without connecting to the internet, "most people … will connect it to broadband internet so they can enjoy the most immersive, rich entertainment experience possible. Plus, with an internet connection, NextGenTV will be upgradeable as new features become available," says the watchnextgenTV site.

The National Association of Broadcasters says "NextGenTV is based on Internet Protocol (IP), just like online video services, and uses web languages for interactivity, so you can expect more innovation and new services, bringing you the best combination of online and broadcast television."

NextGenTV "lets local TV stations better personalize their broadcasts with information and interactive features so you can get the content and features most relevant to you." The new broadcast technology "can also enable warnings about impending storms and alerting you to other emergencies, with targeted public announcements that are interactive and mobile," the NAB says.

A full transition to NextGenTV might take 15 years, because the life span of today's flat panel TVs is about 10-12 years, Adrick says.

Here's the WKRC-TV on-air announcement:

If you currently use an antenna to receive WKRC Cincinnati for free, you may need to obtain new equipment to receive the ATSC 3.0 signal, or you will need to rescan your television set on or after Sept. 14 to receive the relocated ATSC 1.0 signal over the air.

WKRC Cincinnati intends to relocate its ATSC 1.0 signal to a different frequency and begin broadcasting in the NextGen (ATSC 3.0) transmissions standard on Sept. 14, 2021, at 10:00 a.m.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.