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I just watched the first interactive broadcast TV channel in the US

I just watched the first interactive broadcast TV channel in the US

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Roxi has developed tech that lets you watch music videos on its interactive broadcast TV channel — and it could help save broadcast TV.

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An image of a Nicki Minaj on a TV screen. The screen is paused with a prominent UI, including a play and skip button.
That’s a whole navigable UI... on broadcast TV.
Photo by Alex Cranz / The Verge

If you happen to live in Las Vegas and have a TV with an ATSC 3.0 tuner, then, for the next few days, there will be a new channel on your TV. At first, the Roxi channel just appears to play music videos, but when you hit the pause button on your remote, the TV pauses — despite being a broadcast channel. There’s no DVR involved or app you need to download. And with the press of your remote, you can skip ahead to the next music video or even choose from other playlists, all within the broadcast channel. It’s something that’s been central to the promise of ATSC 3.0, and Roxi thinks it’s finally delivering.

Roxi CEO Rob Lewis knows a bit about music streaming. In the 2000s, he was the CEO of Omnifone, one of the first music streaming companies — back when Nokia was still the phone du jour. He founded Roxi in 2014 to find a way to make music streaming easier, and he quickly collected a roster of famous investors, including Sheryl Crow, Robbie Williams, and Stephen Fry.

Now, he’s focused on improving ATSC 3.0 because, in practice, it kind of sucks. If your market has channels that support it, and if you have an ATSC 3.0 tuner, your TV will get better-quality video and audio. It’s a noticeable improvement but not exactly the kind of thing that would make either broadcasters or audiences race out to buy a new TV. Its lackluster rollout and support have hurt the standard — with LG last year announcing it would not be including ATSC 3.0 tuners in its 2024 TVs.

But ATSC 3.0 has real potential as an alternative to paid streaming apps and internet-dependent FAST TV channels — particularly when it comes to interactive TV. Lewis thinks Roxi has finally figured that part of ATSC 3.0 out. Roxi accomplishes the feat using technology Lewis calls “FastStream,” which temporarily downloads an app to the TV’s short-term memory. The app is on the TV only as long as you’re on the channel, and when you flip to another channel, it goes away. (Lewis calls it a “transitory app.”)

While limited to music for now, the tech could eventually be used to actually buy stuff directly from your TV, get weather on demand, skip around the news to get the local segments you actually want to watch, or possibly even give you on-demand TV and films — all things that ATSC 3.0 has been promising for years and failing to deliver.

That’s probably why Sinclair partnered with Roxi. Sinclair currently owns about 40 percent of the broadcast TV market in the United States, and given the state of broadcast TV, it’s on borrowed time. Sinclair and other broadcasters need to compete with streaming and social media — which are both far more nimble and interactive. Roxi’s FastStream technology could help with that. At one point in our conversation, Lewis compared the Roxi channel to TikTok in that it’s all preprogrammed and you can skip ahead if you don’t like what it shows you.

The channel will be available in Las Vegas through Friday, as it’s currently being used to demonstrate the technology at CES. Then, it’s expected to appear in all US markets that currently have ATSC 3.0 channels by the end of Q1 2024 — both those dominated by Sinclair and those not.