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Mobile DTV Goes to Vegas

A little more than a year after the Advanced Television Systems Committee gave final approval for the mobile digital TV standard—ATSC M/HH (A/153)—the technology will finally be making some serious waves at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Several local Vegas TV stations will be broadcasting signals to the mobile devices being shown at CES by consumer electronics companies, and groups backing the technology— the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) and Mobile500—are planning to be out in force at the show.

“We will be participating in a big way, and I think 2011 will be a big year” for mobile DTV, notes Vincent Sadusky, president and CEO of LIN Media, who was elected president of the OMVC in October.

A recent commitment by MCV (a consortium that includes Fox, NBC, Ion, and the nine major station groups belonging to the Pearl Mobile DTV consortium) to launch two free channels in 20 DMAs reaching more than 40% of the U.S. population is also fueling interest among device manufacturers. “For the first time, devicemakers are going to be able to talk about being able to sell devices that work in 40% of the country,” says Salil Dalvi, co-GM of MCV.

Other groups are embracing the technology. Members of the Mobile500 group, which represents the mobile DTV interests of some 40 broadcasters with more than 400 stations, have already launched mobile DTV services at seven outlets, with another 32 to come in 2011. Meanwhile, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will soon announce an initiative to help fund the cost of deploying MDTV.

Several technological trends are helping drive MDTV into the market, including the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets and the relatively low cost of implementing mobile TV services. Stations can now launch basic MDTV services with relative ease, for as little as $130,000 to $160,000 a year, notes Jay Adrick, VP of broadcast technology at Harris Corp. Harris has been involved in the launch of mobile services at more than 50 stations.

Issues Remain
Some thorny business problems remain, however. While the highly fragmented broadcast industry came together to form the OMVC to develop the technology, two different groups—the MCV and the Mobile500—were formed this year to carry out the tough negotiations with device manufacturers, telcos and content owners, raising fears that the fragmented approaches to the technology might slow rollouts and confuse consumers.

Executives at both groups vow that won’t happen. “There is an active dialog with the members of the Mobile500 to ensure this is a coordinated effort,” notes Erik Morena, co-GM of MCV.

Both groups also stress that they’ve settled on providing free, encrypted signals, an approach that will ultimately allow the development of a variety of business models, including free opt-in services, or pay and subscription models.

Another potential sticking point is content rights, particularly for network and sports programming not owned by the local stations. While CBS and ABC have not revealed their MDTV plans or committed to making their content available to affiliates, part of the logjam over network content was broken by NBC and Fox’s decision to join MCV. The MCV 2011 launches will, as a result, include at least some network programming in addition to the local news, weather and sports owned by stations.

While Sprint participated in the Washington, D.C., mobile DTV trials, no mobile carriers or telcos have agreed to partner with broadcasters for the launch of services. “Ultimately, we need [partnership with] the carriers, because the real value proposition for mobile DTV is not just the [value of providing] mobile [content], it is also the back channel,” which will strengthen business models, says John Lawson, who was recently appointed executive director of Mobile500. “The back channel will provide a lot of data that we think can be monetized through advertising 2.0—which is a more targeted customized advertising system—as well as pay-per-use and subscription” models, Lawson adds.