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Sun Feb 11 1:34 pm  #1


TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

I don’t know a lot about the technical side of this stuff, but I’m betting there’s someone out there who does. Ever since the switch to digital over-the-air TV, I’ve been wondering: how may subcarriers can one channel use before it starts to degrade the main HD signal?
 
WGRZ in Buffalo recently added the Quest Channel (a sort of poor man’s Discovery Network) at 2.4, giving them a third subcarrier, The ION network-owned station on channel 51 (which only comes in here occasionally) has no less than five of them. Is there a limit to the number of SD feeds you can place on there before it’s simply not possible anymore? If so, what would that number be? And what effect, if any, does it have on the main signal?
 
Also: is there any legal prohibition on doing this in Canada? While the Rogers, Bells and Corus-es would most certainly not want to add anything to their OTA signals – since they want you as a satellite or cable customer instead of getting their stations for free – is there any rule here that would prevent say, a CHCH from adding an 11.2 or an 11.3, presuming they could find something financially viable to show on it? (I’m guessing the CRTC would be forced to approve it, so most wouldn’t want to bother with the red tape and expense. But could they if they really wanted to?)

 

Sun Feb 11 9:48 pm  #2


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

RadioActive wrote:

Also: is there any legal prohibition on doing this in Canada? While the Rogers, Bells and Corus-es would most certainly not want to add anything to their OTA signals – since they want you as a satellite or cable customer instead of getting their stations for free – is there any rule here that would prevent say, a CHCH from adding an 11.2 or an 11.3, presuming they could find something financially viable to show on it? (I’m guessing the CRTC would be forced to approve it, so most wouldn’t want to bother with the red tape and expense. But could they if they really wanted to?)

Canadian channels can operate OTA sub-channels. They do have to get a license from the CRTC but the framework is there.

You haven't seen it because our industry is controlled by a very small handful of people with no interest in it. Unlike the US, years of media consolidation has left us with no real affiliate system where local stations are operated by companies independent of the network. In Canada, practically all local stations are owned and operated by the networks. In Canada, all but one of our major networks are vertically integrated or directly related to a telecommunications company. Why operate a free digital sub-channel when they can ask you to subscribe to it on cable or use its programming library for an OTT SVOD service? These companies aren't really broadcasters looking to maximize ad revenue. They're telecoms looking to leverage content into a monthly bill. 

In an idealistic world, the CBC would lead the charge and launch a sub-channel since they're allegedly a public broadcaster. A news channel would be out of the question as they make too much from their cable channel. A library documentary channel or a kids channel would suffice, but they probably would want you to directly pay for that. In the real world, the CBC is helping lead the charge in dismantling OTA coverage in Canada, ensuring that the technology has no future.

 

Tue Feb 13 9:46 am  #3


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

The short answer to "how many" is - it depends.  Assuming that the main channel is in HD, i.e. 2.1 is 1080i, every subchannel impacts the bit-rate.   Most Standard Def. subchannels run at 480i - and at fairly low bitrates.  That may contribute to pixellation if there are too many subs.   WGRZ's 3 SD subs are at 480i.  The don't seem to impact the HD picture quality.  Olympic sports don't seem to be pixelating.  Some US HD broadcasters run 720p on their HD main channels.  It seems that 3 480i subs is probably the right combination.  I assume the subs are also run through a statistical multiplexer or some device that allocates more "bits" to the channel which has more "motion".   It also seems that many of the subs telecast documentary-style programs, that don't have a lot of motion.

This will change if/when US stations adopt ATSC 3.0 - after the repack.  Apparently the codecs for 3.0 allow two pretty high quality HD channels to be telecast.  

It will be interesting to see the quality when WIVB combines with WNLO on Channel 23. (RF32).  I think 2 HD's on current ATSC coding will be dicey.

 

Thu Feb 15 12:33 pm  #4


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

Retaw wrote:

You haven't seen it because our industry is controlled by a very small handful of people with no interest in it. Unlike the US, years of media consolidation has left us with no real affiliate system where local stations are operated by companies independent of the network. In Canada, practically all local stations are owned and operated by the networks. In Canada, all but one of our major networks are vertically integrated or directly related to a telecommunications company. Why operate a free digital sub-channel when they can ask you to subscribe to it on cable or use its programming library for an OTT SVOD service? These companies aren't really broadcasters looking to maximize ad revenue. They're telecoms looking to leverage content into a monthly bill. 

Exactly.  Hence the Bell blue jackets or Rogers red jackets that occasionally roam the streets pounding on people's doors or marching down the driveway and barging in on back yard barbecues to ask, "What are you doing for home phone, cell phone, cable, and internet?"  And then try to sell you one of their obscenely priced packages.

Retaw wrote:

In an idealistic world, the CBC would lead the charge and launch a sub-channel since they're allegedly a public broadcaster. A news channel would be out of the question as they make too much from their cable channel. A library documentary channel or a kids channel would suffice, but they probably would want you to directly pay for that. In the real world, the CBC is helping lead the charge in dismantling OTA coverage in Canada, ensuring that the technology has no future.

This one has to be the biggest disappointment.  When CBC started transmitting ATSC, I honestly thought Newsworld and RDI would be on a subcarrier of the English and French networks respectively from the very start.  However many years later, they aren't, and their president Hubert Lacroix would prefer not to have the main channels transmitted over the air.  Not too long ago, he and some shmuck counterpart of his from Bell Media showed up at the CRTC and requested to abandon over the air TV transmission.  In one of their rare wise decisions, the CRTC said no to both.  I honestly don't care about Bell.  I'm not one of their customers, but I don't have a choice about ponying up for the CBC.  Unless Trudeau's prepared to hand me my $33 back every year, I expect that transmitter to be running so I can tune in 5.1 on my TV.

 

Thu Feb 15 1:22 pm  #5


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

I still don't understand why there's so much focus on keeping OTA going when less than 10% of viewers use it.  Seems like a waste of a precious resource and bandwidth that could be better used elsewhere.   When ATSC 3.0 comes around using h.265, it will pretty much negate the advantages of OTA since everything will be broadcast as a highly-compressed data stream.

At one point there was a concern that was trying to provide free basic satellite service across Canada but that seems to have fallen through.  
 

 

Thu Feb 15 1:53 pm  #6


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

Peter the K wrote:

When ATSC 3.0 comes around using h.265, it will pretty much negate the advantages of OTA since everything will be broadcast as a highly-compressed data stream.

The h.265 codec is extremely efficient and is significantly more transparent per pixel than h.264, let alone MPEG-2. ATSC 3.0 also opens the doors to TV mobility. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Philosophically, I have a real issue in this country with Bell, Rogers and Shaw owning the whole content creation and distribution ecosystem. In a small way, OTA decouples me from paying one of these companies a delivery fee for TV services whose licenses have their origins in an advertising based revenue model. These duopolgies make more than enough off me with my cellular and Internet service.

Last edited by Tim Brown 2016 (Thu Feb 15 2:00 pm)

 

Thu Feb 15 3:30 pm  #7


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

Peter the K wrote:

I still don't understand why there's so much focus on keeping OTA going when less than 10% of viewers use it.  Seems like a waste of a precious resource and bandwidth that could be better used elsewhere.

The problem with using current Canadian metrics on OTA viewership is that the technology has been heavily neglected. Think about this thread. Someone on an obscure enthusiast Radio/TV forum had to ask if it was even logistically possible to launch a digital sub-channel in Canada. Random Joe/Jane will know even less and I can't blame them. We're more than six years into the digital transition and the only thing our broadcasters have used the tech for is to provide HD feeds and leverage the upgrade price as justification to shutter transmitters. When ATSC 3.0 discussions finally reach the CRTC, I fully expect our broadcasters to plead the case that the associated fees will be too large and they should just get out of OTA in general.

That last point is a particularly significant issue. OTA viewership in this country can't grow if our broadcasters literally make it unavailable to consumers. In the United States, OTA viewership is growing and now a few of these sub-channels are starting to gain audiences as large as some cable channels. People there are ditching cable/satellite and ignoring linear IPTV for SVOD services, with OTA serving as a compliment. We're seeing the first part of that in Canada, but not really the second. That's because outside of the Toronto/Montreal/Vancouver area, you'd probably be lucky to get more than CBC and CTV with an indoor antenna. There's no reason to keep one plugged in when that's all you're getting. Our broadcasters don't deserve the benefit of the doubt to think they would ever be interested in changing that for the positive.

SVOD services like Netflix and CraveTV are great for scripted programming. They're awful for local content. That's where OTA broadcasters should be filling the gap. Why do I say OTA instead of websites? Well, monetizing local content online is basically a fool's errand. It's difficult to gain an audience and web advertising rates are just too low to support anything more than a skeleton crew (and many would argue our newsrooms are already down to that).

Bandwidth is actually a good thing to bring up. The only reason our private broadcasters haven't completely dropped out of OTA is because the CRTC is requiring them to keep some presence for simsub rights. If you're going to be forced to do something, wouldn't you want to make it as lucrative as possible? People in Buffalo receive far more channels OTA than people in Toronto do, despite Toronto being a dramatically larger market. Don't give me the excuse that our population is too small to support OTA library dump sub-channels.

 

Thu Feb 15 3:57 pm  #8


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

You know, I'm not entirely sure of your point about OTA not spreading in the GTA. True, it's almost a dead issue for those in apartments. But when I moved into my house some 26 years ago, one of the first things I did was have a 40' mast and a rotor installed. This was in the analog days. 

The company that did the work was struggling to say the least. They admitted to me they weren't all that busy and it was strictly a family business. Fast forward to the digital transition and the endless rip-offs for cable, satellite and Fibe for Bell and Rogers. I recently had reason to go back to them about something and not only are they still around, the owner told me he was so busy putting up antennae, they had to hire extra staff just to keep up with the demand. 

I think there are a lot more people cutting the cord here than you imagine and I hope it's keeping Rogers and Bell execs up at night. People are tired of the endless gouging and with the digital subcarriers expanding from Buffalo and the ability to watch shows over the web, there's a lot more to see than there was when I put up my first tower.

I'm not sure what ATSC 3.0 will bring, but as long as the U.S. stays OTA, there will be a market for it in the GTA. ("OTA in The GTA." Sounds like a cheer you might hear at a football game, a protest shout or a future Bruce Springsteen song!) And for what I'm led to believe, it's a market that's only going to continue to grow.  

     Thread Starter
 

Thu Feb 15 4:15 pm  #9


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

I'm not saying people in Canada don't use OTA. I'm advocating for the technology's development in this country. It's just that the audience for it up here is smaller than it should be because of the neglect and outright spite from our broadcasters. The digital transition in the US was met with a lot of excitement. Up here it was met with dread.

I live in Toronto and with just a selectively placed in-door antenna, I'm able to pick up over 30 channels depending on the weather. More than two-thirds of those being from Buffalo. I think that's just ridiculous given the market size disparity. If the operators there can make sub-channels work for them, our operators don't have any valid excuse. Corus, for some reason, maintains Global Toronto's sub-channel which is just an SD feed ... Why not use that space to run old Nelvana material or something? Their pay children's channels aren't using any of that.

Last edited by Retaw (Thu Feb 15 4:17 pm)

 

Thu Feb 15 4:27 pm  #10


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

If the subcarrier channels could also be found on one of those black boxes (ie Red Rhino box)
That would be nice.
Anything that secures the elimination of weather issues is better than anything the antenna tries to be useful for.

 

Fri Feb 16 12:36 pm  #11


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

Well, not everyone can afford or is willing to part with astronomical amounts of money on cable/satellite bills every month.  Secondly, I include myself in the group of people that disagrees with how content creation and distribution has been locked up by what's basically a cartel of a very small group of companies here.  The CRTC has done an awful job in terms of protecting Canadian consumers from the likes of Bell and Rogers etc.  Calling it an awful job doesn't go far enough, it's more like dereliction of duty and abdication of responsibility, not that that's news around here.

Anyhow, over the air TV reception has gotten difficult outside of Toronto and a few other large cities or the border areas where you can pull in signals from the United States where the FCC has done a better job at preventing the TV business from becoming consolidated heavily like here.  I have relatives who are elderly who live in London who were upset when they lost access to CBC TV when the analog transmitter was shut down and not replaced a few years ago.  That leaves them with CFPL and a few others they can pull in distantly.  I'd have to ask but I don't think either of them can pull anything in from the US.

In the US, over the air TV is a normal and perfectly acceptable way of distributing and obtaining content.  Here, it's barely provided, begrudgingly, in a limited number of places by a small number of companies of which at least two are publicly on record at the CRTC as not wanting to do it at all, in a regulatory environment that has been designed to maximize the enrichment of Bell, Rogers, and Shaw.  I strongly disagree with legal and regulatory framework that encourages pickpocketing on part of these companies.  And I extremely strongly disagree with the CBC collecting massive subsidy money only to try and discontinue even more service.

 

Fri Feb 16 3:56 pm  #12


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

Radiowiz wrote:

If the subcarrier channels could also be found on one of those black boxes (ie Red Rhino box)
That would be nice.
Anything that secures the elimination of weather issues is better than anything the antenna tries to be useful for.

To add insult to injury, most of the subcarriers are carried on U.S. cable, which means you can see them down there even without an antenna. Canadians who don't do OTA are missing out on them here and they will never be picked up by our head ends.

And I couldn't agree more with Plate Voltage that letting Bell and Rogers control both programming and distribution is an absolute recipe for abuse. Which, of course, is exactly what's happened. Blame the chief cooks at the CRTC for letting it get this far.

     Thread Starter
 

Fri Feb 16 4:41 pm  #13


Re: TV Subcarrier Question: How Many Is Too Many?

With all the talk about what U.S.channels are available to we Canadian viewers, I was curious about the reverse. Check out the "list of Canadian television stations available in the United States" I apologize that I don't know how to do links. It lists border cities from Maine to Washington and lists all Canadian channels available to American viewers either by OTA or cable. Most cable operators carry CBC. Very few carry CTV and Global. In Western New York, only CBLT,CFTO and CHCH are offered on cable. It also depends on the cable company whether you get all three. Very interesting list and quite detailed.