Public Media Group unveils strategies to build a public-private Next Gen TV network

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With roots in two established pubmedia service providers, Public Media Group has launched as a new platform to help both public and commercial TV stations manage the complex transition to ATSC 3.0 and the Next Gen TV platforms it promises to create.

The new venture, announced Wednesday at the 2019 Next Gen TV Broadcast Conference in Washington, D.C., will grow in three phases, said CEO Joe Chinnici. It will start by developing a nationwide web of single-frequency network (SFN) transmission systems for ATSC 3.0 digital TV, then focus on next-generation broadcast and data-center technology. In the third phase, the group will develop a system of renewable energy to power the technology infrastructure created during the first two phases.

Chinnici

PMG is affiliated with the Public Media Venture Group, a partnership of more than 30 public television stations and networks working on technology and business models for ATSC 3.0. PVMG was incubated by the nonprofit consultancy Public Media Co. until April, when PMC announced the ventures group was spinning off as an independent nonprofit. PMG is organized as a for-profit public benefit company.

PMG grew from conversations that began two years ago at Osborn Engineering, a consulting firm that assisted broadcasters with FCC technical work for clients that included all four major commercial networks, according to the company’s website. Osborn’s need for more ATSC 3.0 expertise led it to enlist Chinnici to assist clients under the Osborn Infrastructure banner. In 2018, Osborn Infrastructure began talking with the PMVG. Those conversations, which began at a PMVG summit last year, led to the creation of PMG as a separate entity.

Erik Langner, PMG’s president, joins the venture from Public Media Co.

SFNs from coast to coast

As it launches phase one, PMG is looking for both public and commercial partners to be part of SFN systems it hopes to build around the country.

“We see the SFN as the optimal way to deploy ATSC 3.0 so it maximizes value for the broadcasters and the audiences, to transmit data to as much of the audience as possible,” Langner said.

Langner

Unlike the traditional broadcast model in which stations build one tall tower, usually at a central spot in their market, SFNs add multiple lower-power transmitters at additional locations to help fill signal gaps or reach outlying areas that might have been too far from a station’s main signal or blocked by terrain.

PMG joins a crowded marketplace of ATSC 3.0 pioneers hoping to build consortia and lead the transition from the present ATSC 1.0 system. Unlike its competitors, which are led by large commercial TV players such as Sinclair, Chinnici said PMG aims to be “Switzerland” — operating as a neutral player without a bias toward either commercial or public partners.

In developing SFNs, “we feel we’re best positioned to approach each market and to design it for optimal use of all stakeholders, whether commercial, public or yet to be determined,” Chinnici said.

And unlike large commercial players Pearl TV and Spectrum Co., which are focusing their initial efforts on ATSC 3.0 rollouts in large TV markets as early as this fall, Chinnici said PMG is planning a true nationwide buildout.

PMG’s stakeholders range from broadcasters in large markets to those in tier-three and -four markets, including statewide networks, he said. “We have a very diverse stakeholder base interested in working with us, and that has attracted a number of commercial clients,” he said.

For many of those clients, Chinnici said, PMG hopes to help them transition their transmission expenses from the traditional capital-expenditure model, where local stations build or rebuild expensive high-power facilities once every few decades, to an operating-expenditure model, where PMG finances buildout of the transmission system and stations pay on an ongoing basis for access to the network.

“With limited resources [at the station level], is it better to compete in front of the camera or behind the camera?” Chinnici asked. “What we’re talking about is transmission as a service,” using PMG’s expertise to distribute their signals. Stations can focus their local efforts on content production and the new revenue opportunities that ATSC 3.0 promises.

As “Switzerland,” PMG promises to offer client stations an “ear to the ground” to help them identify some of those new revenue streams, but the company itself will leave those business deals to individual stations, letting them find clients for data distribution over the spectrum each will continue to control. This, too, differs from the plans announced by Pearl TV and Spectrum Co., which plan to pool commercial stations’ spectrum and sell data services in a more centralized fashion.

Next steps

PMG is launching with a group of 31 PVMG partners drawn from public media. Together they represent 117 stations that reach more than 230 million potential viewers. As the group seeks to expand its base of clients, Langner said he expects it will take seven to 15 years to build out a full nationwide infrastructure of SFN transmitters reaching as much of the country as possible.

As that network grows, PMG plans to leverage those partnerships to provide additional services to stations. With a background in digital technology as president and COO of BioStar Infrastructure, Chinnici envisions the next step as centralizing broadcast and data center technology, he said. This phase of development will ease the burden on local stations trying to keep up with fast-moving advances in both IT and digital broadcast technology.

“Although we have an obligation to investors, we also have an obligation to our stakeholders, which is the entire broadcast industry.”

Joe Chinnici, Public Media Group

In addition to controlling some of those technology costs, Chinnici hopes to bring some certainty to stations’ energy budgets by building out a network of renewable power to supply PMG members’ needs.

“If you’re a CFO, one of your biggest cost considerations is energy,” Chinnici said, “and we can provide that visibility for 15 or 20 years instead of on a spot-market basis,” offering stations a power-purchase agreement to make power costs a predictable budget item.

To make that a reality, PMG is looking for utility partners as well, with hopes to supply solar, wind and other renewable energy to customers.

For-profit with a mission

PMG is being formed as a “public benefit corporation,” a for-profit company that also has a responsibility to do more than deliver a maximum return to its investors.

“Although we have an obligation to investors, we also have an obligation to our stakeholders, which is the entire broadcast industry,” Chinnici said. “Part of our mission in serving those stakeholders is to do everything we can to provide new services in cooperation with broadcasters,” while operating in as transparent and neutral a manner as possible.

In addition to Chinnici and Langner, PMG’s leadership team also includes Eric Dausman, formerly with Osborn and San Francisco’s multiuser Sutro Tower, as SVP of RF technology, and PMVG’s Marc Hand, who will serve as chief strategy officer.

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