Two of the biggest independent TV station owners — Nexstar Media Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group — just announced a potentially important alliance to promote a new standard that could make it easier to meld 4K programming and interactive broadband data in over-the-air transmissions.

The companies signed a memorandum of understanding to create a consortium that they’ll jointly own to “promote spectrum aggregation, innovation and monetization and enhance their abilities to compete in the wireless data transmission sector.”

They specifically want to promote the ATSC 3.0 standard — an upgrade from the current ATSC 1.0. It’s an ambitious effort: The new standard is not backward-compatible, meaning consumers would have to buy new sets.

Last month, the FCC unanimously voted to seek comments on a plan that would let stations voluntarily transmit signals using ATSC 3.0 with protections to ensure that current viewers — as well as cable and satellite companies that re-transmit local broadcasters  — don’t lose programming.


Chairman Ajit Pai called ATSC 3.0 the “first transmission standard to marry the advantages of broadcasting and the Internet. And it’s based on Internet protocol, or IP, which will permit seamless integration with other IP-based services and platforms.”

Regulators appear unwilling to give stations additional spectrum to offer current and ATSC 3.0 signals, the way they did a decade ago in the lead-up to the national transition from analog to digital TV. The FCC also probably won’t help low-income viewers who can’t afford to pay for new technology.

Nexstar and Sinclair reach about 60% of U.S. households. But their collaboration is not exclusive, and they will look to add other broadcasters to their group.

They say that they’ll explore “monetization opportunities such as spectrum utilization, virtual MVPD platforms, multicast channels, automotive applications, single frequency networks and wireless data applications, among others.”

In addition, the companies say that they hope to collect “significant and meaningful information” about “consumers’ actual viewing and consumption behaviors. As a result, broadcasters will no longer have to rely on expensive third-party measurement services with small sample sizes and unverified results.”

The alliance will “bring our respective shareholders appropriate value from increasingly scarce and in-demand spectrum,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook says.

Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley adds that the efforts will ensure that “Sinclair, Nexstar and perhaps other industry participants are out of the blocks quickly once ATSC 3.0 is launched. We believe this effort will maximize the value of our programming and ad inventory while creating new cross platform revenue opportunities that will benefit our respective shareholders.”