Broadcasters Wrap Up Mobile-Tech Trials

So far, the only way to watch TV or video on a mobile phone has been through a wireless carrier like Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

A consortium of local TV stations plans to change that.

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, which formed in April 2007, has been working with the Advanced Television Systems Committee to create a mobile digital-TV standard for the U.S. Last week, at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention, the group announced it has completed successful technical trials of three technologies in San Francisco and Las Vegas.

“Based on our research, consumers would be very receptive to what you get from broadcast TV today,” OMVC executive director Anne Schelle said. “It’s local content: Local sports, news, weather. That’s compelling.”

NAB president David Rehr touted the mobile TV opportunity for broadcasters in his opening keynote at the group’s show, citing a $2 billion incremental advertising opportunity (see Rules, page 30).

The figure comes from an NAB-commissioned report by research firm BIA Financial Network. According to BIA’s analysis, if the industry hits its deadlines and delivers mobile TV devices and services that conform to an ATSC standard by the 2009 holiday season, broadcasters could realize $2 billion in additional ad revenue by 2012.

The study projected that there will be approximately 130 million phones and 25 million media players able to receive mobile DTV signals by 2012, and that consumers will view an additional one hour per week of over-the-air broadcasting using these devices.

“We think there’s potential there because of broadcasters’ local presence,” said BIA vice president Mark Fratrik.

The OMVC’s members include 20 companies that own and operate more than 450 commercial television stations, as well as the Association of Public Television Stations, which represents 360 public TV stations.

Schelle said the final report on the trials will be delivered to the ATSC in mid-May after additional labs-based testing. The broadcasters are hoping to get a spec finished before the February 2009 digital TV cutover.

The three systems in the preliminary testing and evaluation are: the Mobile-Pedestrian-Handheld (MPH) system developed by LG Electronics and Harris; the Advanced Vestigial Sideband (A-VSB) system developed by Samsung Electronics and Rohde & Schwarz; and a third system developed by Thomson and Micronas.

In the trials, according to the OMVC, the systems showed an average range of 40 miles from the transmitter and demonstrated that they don’t interfere with normal digital broadcasting.

The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) provided funding for the two tests, and the NAB has provided the OMVC backing as well.

Next up: The consortium plans market trials for late summer or early fall with mobile TV devices available for consumers to use.

“We’re looking at, What does the consumer want? What are their expectations?” Schelle said, adding that OMVC is primarily focused at this point on arriving at a single specification: “If there isn’t a standard, there isn’t any of this.”

Initially, OMVC’s members expect to offer a simulcast of their digital over-the-air feed, Schelle said.

At some point, cable programming may enter the picture, and the OMVC is considering both ad-supported and paid-subscription models.

Schelle said the consortium and its member stations are not talking to cable networks at this point about carrying content as part of their mobile TV services but that they’re “ruling nothing out.”

“The most important thing,” she added, “is offering the consumer a compelling TV experience.”