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YouTube TV picture quality, FAST + SVOD, NextGen TV and FCCnScreenMedia

YouTube TV users could be in line for a picture quality upgrade. Pluto TV live streaming illustrates how SVODs and FASTs will ultimately work together. NextGen TV needs help from the FCC, and soon!

Is a YouTube TV picture quality upgrade coming?

In a post on Reddit, TeamYouTube_Jessie said the company is testing several picture quality improvements. Over the next several weeks, the company will test higher bitrate streams for live 1080p content. The test will only include devices that support Google’s VP9 codec and are connected with a “high speed” internet connection.
There are no details on what constitutes “high speed,” although the company is more likely talking about connections that can sustain high speeds rather than achieve them for a short time. Most internet connections are sold based on peak, not sustained bandwidth.

Why it matters

YouTube TV versus OTA detailI found YouTube TV’s picture quality very close to traditional over-the-air (OTA) TV quality during the recent World Cup. However, OTA still had the edge. For example, grass detail was better in the OTA picture, the color was brighter, and there was less color bleeding. Higher bandwidth and other “transcoding” changes could boost YouTube TV’s live quality significantly above OTA if you have enough bandwidth to see it!

Disappointingly, there is nothing in the post about boosting 4K quality. All the UltraHD feeds to the World Cup lacked the wow factor I’d expected. Keeping in mind that YouTube TV charges extra for 4K support, hopefully, the service will apply what it learns with the 1080p changes to boost 4K quality too.

How FAST and SVOD can work together

Pluto TV will stream the 2023 Tony Awards pre-show live starting at 6:30 PM Eastern on Sunday, June 11th. Pluto TV’s Celebrity channel will carry the first round of Tony Awards and other “live and exclusive” content. Following the pre-show, viewers can tune in to the live main event on Paramount+ or watch on their local CBS affiliate (also available within Paramount+.)

Why it matters

As I found out at NAB last week, licenses to live content often come with a great deal of “shoulder” content, like pre-show events, interviews, backstage views, and more. It is not cost-effective to fully monetize it in traditional TV as other content competing for the schedule slot will draw a bigger audience.

Streaming TV does not have the scheduling and bandwidth constraints that broadcasting has. Providers can put up as much content as is available with only a small incremental cost. Using some of the shoulder content on FAST services like Pluto TV is a great way of maximizing its value, as it:

  • Reaches a national audience to maximize reach
  • Earns additional advertising revenue
  • Drives interest in the event behind the subscription paywall
  • Helps build the audience for the FAST service.

In some respects, FASTs negatively impact SVOD market growth. However, in the long run, both types of services will co-exist, and Paramount Global is showing how the two approaches can help each other.

NextGen TV looks for help from the FCC

At NAB, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said that the FCC would kick off The Future of Television initiative and begin the process of making rules to aid the adoption of NextGen TV (aka ATSC 3.0:)

“This Future of Television initiative will gather industry, government, and public interest stakeholders to establish a roadmap for a transition to ATSC 3.0 that serves the public interest. A successful transition will provide for an orderly shift from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0 and will allow broadcasters to innovate while protecting consumers, especially those most vulnerable.”

Why it matters

Percentage of US OTA homesThe broadcast industry needs help to speed up the transition, or NextGen TV risks becoming irrelevant. As streaming TV and FASTs advance, they could take over the role NextGen TV aims to fill. Stations are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 in 66 of the 210 designated market areas (DMAs) in the US. However, the audience for the channels remains small because few people have compatible TV sets. ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 are incompatible, and most TVs for sale today do not support ATSC 3.0.

And getting ATSC 3.0 support into all TVs is perhaps the biggest lift the FCC can provide to the NextGen TV effort. That way, when a TV purchaser takes their set home and attaches their antenna, they will automatically start using the new format channels.

NextGen TV can potentially increase the number of homes using an antenna which today includes about 15% of US homes. Many streaming services charge extra for features like ultra-HD, high dynamic range (HDR), and advanced audio like Dolby Atmos, and NextGen TV delivers these features for free.


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