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A Lot Goes Into a Little TV

TV networks and content providers diving into the world of cellular video services face endless options for delivery. One immediate decision: whether to deliver live video, video-on-demand or both. The choice impacts not only how much money they'll have to spend but also how much they'll make.

Live cellphone video services like Mobi­TV and SmartVideo, for example, don't require re-editing or packaging of content. SmartVideo, based in Duluth, Ga., pulls live signals into its own data center from Crawford Communications in Atlanta. The live signals are then converted into data before being passed out over the cellular network to SmartVideo subscribers.

“We can offer an unlimited number of channels,” says Richard Bennett Jr., SmartVideo president and CEO. College Sports Television (CSTV) will join the SmartVideo family in the next couple of weeks with game coverage and news.

Newer technologies are emerging. When Crown Castle and Qualcomm launch their mobile video services next year, they won't be typical cellular providers. They'll use over-the-air broadcast spectrum to deliver TV content to mobile phones over two new technologies. Qualcomm's is called MediaFlo, and Crown Castle is using DVB-H, a version of the European digital-TV standard. Content providers to those two services can expect a similar “hands-off” approach because both will be beaming live material.

But the video-on-demand model used by Verizon's V Cast and Sprint TV involves some minor lifting by the content provider, which is responsible for first taking a clip and cleaning it up before sending it over to Verizon or Sprint. After making edits and changes, the content provider then encodes the file into the Windows Media Video format and sends it over to the cellphone provider, which then puts some finishing tweaks on the content before making it available to viewers.

“Tight shots of an anchor and the bumping up of fonts so they can be readable on a handset are important,” says Alex Bloom, director of content and programming. Verizon is concentrating on reducing eye strain and, Bloom says, puts a high premium on making sure that subscribers have a good viewing experience.

Verizon, at least, might be interested in using the new Crown Castle and Qualcomm technologies. “We're evaluating DVB-H and MediaFlo to see if they can be helpful to us,” says Bloom. “We could use the technology to take our 15-frames-per-second service and make it 30 frames per second, a move that has an obvious impact on the video quality.”