I’m sitting in a suite at the Cosmopolitan, staring at a large Sony television as a music video for Adam Lambert’s Take Back plays. I don’t like the song, so I hit skip and it moves to the next one, personalized based on the user history from the television. On the bottom are several boxes letting me move to other music channels dedicated to ‘90s and ‘80s songs, very similar to the links you see on YouTube videos.
Only this isn’t YouTube, or even a streaming service. This was being broadcast over the air through ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGen TV by a music-streaming startup called ROXi, which was partnering with Sinclair Broadcasting to bring this across the nation. By the television was a large flat antenna attached to the window to grab the signal.
It was a fully interactive version of over-the-air broadcast television. And it may be one of the more impressive things I saw at CES 2024.
The demonstration comes on top of a big presence for the ATSC at CES 2024, with a booth that showed off NextGen TV’s ability to skip, pause, and start a program over if you’re coming in a little late. They are interactive elements that show off the capabilities of ATSC 3.0, justifying its “NextGen” moniker.
These advancements come at a critical time for NextGen TV, which has struggled with adoption. The Advanced Television Systems Committee, which put together the ATSC 3.0 standard, sees 2024 as a turning point with the broadcast technology reaching 75% of the markets by the Super Bowl, slated for February 11.
The demonstration by ROXi gives a hint of the true capabilities of the technology, and may offer a potential alternative to the wave of free, ad-supported streaming services that has flooded the market – all over an antenna and ATSC 3.0 tuner. ROXi made headlines earlier this week with the launch of its streaming service, its OTA channel, announced in partnership with Sinclair and heading nationwide later this year, could be the bigger deal.
How Do They Pull It Off?
The ability to essentially pull in the capabilities of a full streaming app over broadcast TV is a bit of an illusion. On the OTA programming guide, you can go to ROXi, which is a legit ATSC 3.0 channel.
But once you’re on the channel, a “micro” app is quickly installed to ensure a secure Internet connection. After the connection is confirmed, a second app is installed which brings you to what is essentially a smart TV app experience.
The only difference is it’s all completely seamless. You don’t notice any transition and to a regular viewer, you’re still watching the broadcast. Only it’s gotten much more interactive, complete with personalized recommendations generated over time.
“We’ve delivered the ability to have the best of apps within a linear TV experience,” ROXi CEO Rob Lewis told Cord Cutters News.
It’s a technology that ROXi has patented called FastStream, and was developed after Sinclair had challenged it to create full interactive elements.
And while the ROXi music service is one focus of the company, Lewis acknowledged there’s an opportunity to create a second parallel business around licensing its technology to allow other broadcasters to offer the same features. He teased conversations with another media company interested in this technology after seeing it this week, but declined to offer more specifics.
Beyond music, you can easily see how this technology could work on news programs, allowing you to skip segments or choose different topics, or with a home shopping channel, allowing you to switch to different products and even make a purchase.
Other Interactive Elements
For now, the benefits will largely be seen on the ROXi channel when it launches (there will also be a ROXi Music Games channel and a karaoke channel that will use the same technology, but I didn’t try them).
Coming to all channels in the coming months will be a different kind of technology based on ATSC 3.0 that will allow audiences to pause, rewind, and start a program over. It doesn’t use the FastStream technology, and instead creates an “IP channel” that comes from the internet and mirrors the program, but now with some streaming-like capabilities. When you’re done with the program or want to go back to the live broadcast, it takes you there seamlessly.
While not as fully interactive and personalized as the ROXi demo, clicking through the interactive buttons with a remote was similarly smooth and a little jarring, especially when you associate broadcast television with older technology. It turns out, we’re just catching up to others that have already embraced NextGen TV.
“Europeans have actually had popular interactive television for much longer than we have and you ask them what is the killer app, it’s Start Over,” Madeleine Noland, president of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, told Cord Cutters News on Tuesday at CES 2024.
Beyond just pausing and rewinding, Noland said broadcasters can use the ATSC 3.0 technology to create virtual pop-up channels for one off events, like a local mayoral race debate.
“You could almost spin up a flash channel and you’re actually streaming it for one day, but from the viewers’ point of view it’s just part of the program lineup so, that’s very exciting,” she said.