ATSC 3 DRM Update: No Plan for Gateway Devices and some DRM Certified TVs Don’t Work..

Our campaign continues against the encryption of over the air television signals with my latest video.

The broadcast industry’s DRM implementation restricts how viewers can consume TV content within their homes. Despite the outcry, broadcasters continue their efforts to encrypt over-the-air television, which could potentially limit consumer freedom in how they access and record content.

Here’s the latest news on the topic that I cover in the video:

Petition / Docket Update
The petition on to stop DRM has garnered over 9,000 signatures, reflecting a growing concern among the public. This petition, along with over 2,200 citizen submissions to the FCC’s official docket, demonstrates a clear message from consumers: they do not want DRM.

New York City Finally Gets ATSC 3.0 Broadcasts, but with DRM..
In New York City, the largest TV market in the United States, ATSC 3.0 broadcasts have finally arrived. However, half of the available channels are already encrypted, which means unless a TV is directly connected to an antenna, viewership options are limited.

The Industry Touts 10 Million ATSC 3 Tuners in the Market But..
The NextGen TV group announced they are on track to have 10 million ATSC 3 tuners in consumer homes by the end of the Q4 this year. But most of these are built into televisions that require a direct antenna connection, or a TV tuner box that requires a direct antenna AND an Internet connection to work.

The Antenna Man, a well-known figure in the cord cutting community, has discovered that many devices that claim to work with DRM-encrypted signals are failing to do so. This includes televisions that either don’t tune channels at all or experience random lock-ups.

New Industry Rules on DVR Recording
The A3SA, a separate standards body responsible for DRM encryption, released broadcast encoding rules that, on the surface, seem to be consumer-friendly. These rules include allowing viewers to decrypt and record broadcasts, make unlimited copies, and use features like pause, rewind, fast forward, and ad-skipping.

But these rules are limited to devices that have been certified to decrypt DRM content. And none of the currently shipping devices on the market seem to be able to do anything that these rules allow. What’s worse is that these rules only apply to ATSC 3 signals that are simulcast on the older ATSC 1.0 technology. This leads me to wonder if they will put these restrictions in place once the 2027 transition is complete.

Zapperbox Gets Certified for DRM
The Zapperbox, a digital tuning device, has been certified to watch live encrypted content but not record it. Like the ADTH box I reviewed a little while back, the Zapperbox will require an Internet connection to watch DRM encrypted content for the time being.

The process to update the Zapperbox for DRM compatibility requires allowing unattended screen sharing access to the device to install the security credentials, which raises security concerns. New Zapperbox devices will come from the factory with these security credentials preinstalled.

SiliconDust Says DRM Rules Haven’t Contemplated Gateway Devices..
SiliconDust, the makers of the HDHomeRun, have noted that there is no formal approval for gateway products that allow for in-home streaming of encrypted content. This means that consumers cannot stream content to multiple devices within their homes, a significant step back from the current capabilities with ATSC 1.0.

..Yet Consumers Want Gateway Devices that Replicate Streaming Service Functionality
The broadcaster E.W. Scripps, after acquiring network gateway tuner manufacturer Tablo, canceled the development of an ATSC 3.0 product that would not work as a gateway. The product they did end up releasing, the 4th generation Tablo tuner, does not have ATSC 3.0 support and only works through connected smartphone or smart TV applications as a gateway device.

When I asked why a hardware device owned by a broadcaster shunned the new standard in favor of the old one, here’s what they had to say:

“The fourth-generation Tablo device is optimized for the ATSC 1.0 broadcast standard. We’re excited about forthcoming Tablo devices that will take advantage of the 3.0 standard. We are currently working with the ATCS 3.0 groups to ensure Tablo (and other recording devices) will be compliant and work with the new content protection standards that are part of ATSC 3.0.”

Their statement and actions as a consumer electronics manufacturer indicate that the industry really didn’t contemplate gateway products or is purposely leaving gateway usage out of the specification in an effort to steer consumers into pricey subscription plans.

Where’s the FCC?
As for the FCC’s role in this, it seems they are waiting to see how the situation unfolds before stepping in. With the transition deadline set for 2027, there’s still time for the industry to experiment and potentially fail, which could prompt corrective regulatory action. The irony of all of this is that the private sector rule-making here feels more onerous than government regulation!

What do you think?
The question remains: what is the best outcome for consumers? Is it the complete elimination of DRM, or is there a middle ground where encryption exists but with the flexibility that consumers currently enjoy via gateway devices? Let me know what you think in my latest poll on my YouTube channel.

I will continue to follow this topic closely, providing updates and insights as they emerge. The advocacy against DRM is gaining traction, and it’s clear that the voices of consumers are starting to be heard. The industry and regulatory bodies will have to take these concerns into account as they navigate the future of television broadcasting.