Results of Channel-Sharing Test Reported

Posted on March 31st, 2014 by

Late on Friday, March 28th (late on Fridays is when the FCC normally publishes things they don’t want folks to pay attention to) Chairman Wheeler issued a brief statement on the channel-sharing experiment conducted by KLCS and KJLA in California, heralding the report of the test as making “a compelling case for channel sharing. In business, it is very rare to be able to have your cake and eat it too. It is my hope that broadcasters closely study the channel sharing pilot project report as they consider the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered by the upcoming incentive auction.”

We agree with the “closely study” idea, but wonder why there was no link to the report included in Chairman Wheeler’s announcement.  After all, the stations were required — as a condition of their testing — to file a report with the FCC.  Maybe they have, but we couldn’t locate it on the FCC’s website.  It showed up in a google search on the CTIA’s website at this link

It’s worth reading, especially since the “rosy” picture of the report painted by Chairman Wheeler should actually have a few caveats about the potential limitations of channel-sharing, and an acknowledgment that the FCC may need to examine the transmission and technical aspects of channel-sharing to assure stations that they are not going to be restricted in the amount and quality of content they can air in a channel-sharing situation.  Primary to that inquiry would be the MPEG-2 video and AC-3 audio compression method mandated by the FCC for at least one program stream which, according to the report, leads to a program stream model that needs to be delivered by a very sophisticated encoding pool.  The technology and algorithms used for compression are the “gatekeepers of bitrate efficiency,” according to the report.  Interpretation?  That means the compression technology used can take up a huge share of capacity on a channel, and therefore limit both the quality and amount of programming a channel-sharing station can transmit.  The report discusses two alternative compression technologies.

Also clear from the report is that a sharing arrangement that simply splits a 6 megahertz channel into two 3 megahertz channels will be much more limiting on both parties than will a dynamic model where the 6 megahertz is shared based on many factors, including whether a program is in high or standard definition, and the program schedules of the two stations.  The report does provide a good guide to the kinds of technical provisions that would have to be included in any channel-sharing agreement.

The bottom line of the test is that channel-sharing is possible (which we knew already), but its viability as a solution to the FCC’s spectrum reallocation priorities will turn largely on the willingness and investment of two stations to craft an arrangement where neither is sacrificing content or future programming opportunities.  Not directly answered by the report – whether newer program content features like 3D will really be feasible in a channel-sharing environment.

As we see it, the channel-sharing report is yet another in a dizzying array of factors the FCC must weigh in crafting a spectrum auction that follows Congress’ mandate for TV broadcasting to be preserved.