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Sinclair Broadcast CEO expects rapid expansion of new, mobile-friendly broadcasting standard

The latest advance in television broadcasting, with features such as mobile reception, ultra-high-definition video and movie-theater-quality sound, should reach markets covering about half of U.S. households by the end of the year, the CEO of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group told shareholders.

Sinclair helped create the broadcast technology for Next Gen TV, also known as ATSC 3.0, the first big overhaul of transmission standards for over-the-air signals in more than two decades.

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“We participated in numerous Next Gen TV market launches over the last year,” said Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley during the broadcaster’s annual meeting, held both virtually and in-person Monday. “With Next Gen TV-enabled television sets beginning to come to market, we now anticipate that consumer interest in this technology will drive its nationwide adoption.”

Broadcasters have long viewed the upgrades as the most significant for the industry since the shift from analog to digital and high-definition TV and as a route to growth amid competition with cable and satellite providers.

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Viewers are expected to embrace updated over-the-air technology, an interactive hybrid of broadcast and online, as more people drop cable and instead rely on a mix of the internet, broadcast and streaming services. The new Internet Protocol-based system is designed to work seamlessly with the web.

Six local television stations in Baltimore announced last week that they have begun broadcasting with Next Gen TV. They are WMAR-TV, an ABC affiliate; WBAL-TV, an NBC affiliate; WBFF, a Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate; WNUV, a Sinclair-operated CW affiliate; and WMPT and WMPB, both Maryland Public Television stations. Next Gen TV service is already on the air in more than 20 cities across the country.

“It’s important for MPT to join other Baltimore area stations as early adopters of this powerful broadcasting standard that paves the way for a menu of important services,” said Larry D. Unger, Maryland Public Television’s president and CEO.

Work on the new standard has been underway for about a decade, and many of the features that NextGen will ultimately support are still in development. As service becomes available in local markets, features could vary by device and by broadcaster.

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Local TV stations expect to offer interactive programming, internet content on demand, advanced emergency alert functions and over-the-air broadcasts to tablets, laptops and mobile phones without having to use cellular data.

It may not be necessary to trade up to a new TV to take advantage of Next Gen, according to the National Association of Broadcasters. Adapters are expected to be available, the trade group says, and some models of new televisions already have built-in Next Gen capability.

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