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Cable Technology Feature Article

January 30, 2014

LA TV Affiliates KLCS and KJLA to Test Channel-sharing Ahead of Spectrum Auctions

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Los Angeles television stations KLCS and KJLA are kicking off a pilot to test the feasibility of sharing a single channel to host both of their over-the-air digital broadcast feeds. The idea behind the channel-sharing is to reduce the amount of airwaves needed for TV, thus freeing up more spectrum that the stations could auction off in the FCC’s (News - Alert) upcoming incentive auction, aimed at making more airwaves available for advanced mobile services.

The two TV affiliates are working with CTIA on the pilot, with a goal of demonstrating “the technical and legal arrangements necessary to implement a successful channel sharing operation." It’s hoped that the pilot will successfully show that primary and multicast content can be combined on a single, digital stream capable of carrying multiple high definition (HD) and standard definition (SD) video services. If it works, it could be replicated across the country.

As wireless operators continue to feel the crunch of a spectrum shortage in the face of ever more mobile broadband congestion and usage, and demand from previously unconnected areas in rural parts of the nation, the FCC has been looking at ways to reclaim spectrum that isn't being used. Local TV broadcasters were yielded the "digital dividend" when they made the switch from analog to digital broadcasting, leaving vast swaths of prime beachfront spectrum (the kind that can penetrate indoors and be very useful for expanding 4G coverage, for instance) unused.

After deep negotiations with National Association of Broadcasters on how to execute the idea, the FCC decided on a double-sided auction, to kick off likely in 2015. An incentive auction would allow broadcasters to voluntarily put up their airwaves for bidding on by the FCC, guaranteeing them compensation for the assets. Then, in a forward auction, the spectrum would be auctioned off to wireless operators.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with KLCS to deliver some of our existing programming to a select group of viewers through this unique new platform," said Francis Wilkinson, vice president and general manager of KJLA. "This partnership will enable us to evaluate the practical impact of channel sharing on KJLA's signal, and on our multicast content partners and viewers, as we consider our potential participation in the reverse auction. We hope these early test results will be useful to other members of the broadcast industry."

Once the two parties receive FCC approval, the testing process will occur through the first quarter of 2014. Under the channel sharing agreement, KLCS and KJLA will conduct a series of tests that will culminate in KLCS "hosting" KJLA's content and transmitting a shared stream that will combine the two stations' primary and multicast content. KLCS and KJLA will also attempt a variety of HD and SD video feeds to confirm the feasibility and technical limits of channel sharing between two unaffiliated broadcast stations. There will be no impact to KJLA's and KLCS' viewers during the testing, they said.

The FCC's Broadcast Incentive Auction plan is to ensure the wireless industry has the spectrum needed to meet consumers' demands and remain the world's wireless leader.

Successful channel-sharing gives local TV affiliates more to auction off (and more money to gain), but it also offers a path to streamlining operations.

"Since spectrum is a finite and valuable resource, channel sharing is truly a win-win-win for consumers, broadcasters and wireless providers,” said Steve Largent (News - Alert), president and CEO at CTIA. “This helps broadcasters ensure that over-the-air customers may continue to enjoy their programming while the wireless industry continues to invest and innovate so it can meet the insatiable demands of its consumers for everything from broadband access to the 'Internet of Things,'" "We appreciate the leadership that KJLA and KLCS have shown by volunteering to participate in this important pilot project, and are confident this will be a successful test that will be copied throughout the country."

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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