Working as senior brand marketing manager at Dolby is great because every day we get to see how our technology makes experiencing the content people love even better than before. A lot of companies say that, especially in the audio-visual sector, but, with Dolby, everyone — from industry professionals to consumers — can see and hear it for themselves. NEXTGEN TV, the US branding for the ATSC 3.0 standard, is a perfect example of that.
Next-generation broadcast television is beginning to be deployed around the world. Broadcasters have worked with standards bodies to define systems, conduct tests, create specifications, and, eventually, publish standards that can deliver improvements like 4K, HDR, immersive audio, and personalization to the public. In the US, things have gone one step ahead as the broadcasters have focused on connecting with consumers, and have been, and are still, doing research on how those consumers are responding to the features that the new standard is bringing to market. This, combined with their work with TV OEMs, SoC vendors, and retailers, has resulted in the rapid uptake of these services.
Pearl TV, an organization that represents broadcasters that include nine of the largest broadcast companies — companies that operate more than 820 TV stations — has actively embraced NEXTGEN TV. It is promoting NEXTGEN TV to viewers, who will benefit from the advanced audio features made possible by Dolby AC-4.
Market-led innovation, country-wide
The US market for broadcast TV is different from most. It covers a huge geographic area and serves more than 122.4 million TV homes ¹, making it the third-largest market in the world, after China and India ². This market is evolving, and Americans are changing the way they consume TV. Traditional cable, satellite, and telco TV (CST) operators’ penetration of homes in the US has declined dramatically over the last eight years. 2012 finished out the year with almost 9 in 10 households having a pay TV subscription. Today, penetration has fallen 23 percent to reach 65.2 percent. Consumers who have been termed cord cutters are switching from cable TV services to streaming services ³ and many have embraced antenna TV to get sports and local news. This trend can be seen as antenna use grew 29 percent year-on-year, and now 40 percent of US households have an antenna connected to at least one TV ⁴.
So, it’s clear that Americans aren’t giving up on TV. They’re just getting it differently now. Today’s consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are taking a content-first approach. They want to watch their chosen content wherever they are, whenever they want. They’re less concerned about what device they’re using and more concerned about the viewing experience. And with Dolby AC-4 incorporated not just into TVs but also into an increasing selection of phones and tablets, they’re getting it.
Consumers have come to expect advanced features, such as 4K UHD, Dolby Vision HDR, Dolby Atmos immersive audio, and greater control of their experience. They have these features with OTT services — with more than 80 percent of Americans subscribing to at least one such service ⁵, and the average subscriber having four video streaming subscriptions — and broadcasters are eager to offer similar features to those who opt for over-the-air viewing.
Pearl TV’s member companies are well placed to bring these features to consumers. Its member stations reach 99 percent of the TV viewing audience in the US, including all top 50 US markets, and it has a presence in 198 markets ⁶. And with NEXTGEN TV, they will be in the position to offer these services over the air.
At the time I’m writing this, NEXTGEN TV is now broadcasting in more than 40 markets covering 45 percent of the US population, NEXTGEN TV is expected to reach 75 percent of US households by summer. By the end of 2021, there were more than four million NEXTGEN TVs in US homes. Samsung, LG, and Sony, the three largest manufacturers selling in the US, offer more than 70 NEXTGEN TV models among them ⁷.
In short, a lot of cool stuff is going on. But I think there’s something even cooler happening.
Give the people what they want
Dolby AC-4 is a powerful codec that allows audio features to be delivered by over-the-air broadcasts or streaming services. That’s why it’s central to NEXTGEN TV. It’s also central for broadcasters who are leading with a feature that consumers have overwhelmingly said matters to them — audio.
Specifically, broadcasters have chosen consistent loudness and dialogue enhancement as the two immersive audio features to incorporate into NEXTGEN TV broadcasts. Research has revealed that these features are either “important” or “somewhat important” to more than 90 percent of potential TV buyers ⁸.
Consistent loudness ensures that, when users change channels, the volume level coming from the TV remains the same. Consumers have said inconsistent volume can be very disruptive, disturbing other household members — even waking sleeping babies. Voice+ dialogue enhancement — which is enabled without stations having to make any changes to their workflows — allows consumers to improve the clarity of dialogue so they can hear it over loud music, sound effects, or roaring crowds. Dolby has built these features into our TV software developer kits and worked with manufacturers to support integration into their sets. “The industry is focusing on these features because they matter to consumers,” says Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV. Research has found these features strongly influence buyers.
“The most overlooked factor driving a new TV purchase decision has come to light,” says Schelle. “And it is sound. Sixty percent of consumers who saw ads showcasing these features said they are likely to purchase a NEXTGEN TV set within the next year.”
I think it’s terrific that Pearl TV and NEXTGEN TV broadcasters have chosen to lead with features that actually improve the lives of viewers, reducing household noise, and providing accessibility to those who didn’t have it before. I’m proud to be part of that.
I’ll be watching testing and trials in other markets with interest and Dolby will be an active participant. However, I think there’s a lot to learn from what’s happening in the US right now. NEXTGEN TV is live in a nation of more than 334 million people. And it’s in commercial service, driving revenue for broadcasters. This is no test — NEXTGEN TV, with Dolby AC-4, is a proven winner. It shows the power of a market-driven approach using Dolby technology.
- ¹Source: Neilsen Research
- ²Source: Omdia
- ³Source Leichtman Research, US Census, nScreenMedia
- ⁴Horowitz Research, “State of OTA 2020”
- ⁵Source: Parks Associates, “Reaching Today’s Video Audiences: Platform Diversity and ROI”
- ⁶Source: Pearl TV
- ⁷Source: Pearl TV, “NEXTGEN TV Reaffirms The Future Of Broadcast Television Is Here Highlighting Significant Industry Momentum At Ces“
- ⁸Source: Magid Research