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NAB Exclusive: Mobile500 Preps Soft Mobile DTV Launches

Complete Coverage: 2012 NAB Show

The Mobile500 Alliance is planning a test of their mobile DTV service in Seattle on Fisher Communication's KOMO and in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market on Hubbard Broadcasting's KSTP-TV station in early summer, reports Colleen Brown, chair of the Mobile500 Alliance board of directors and president and COE of Fisher Communications.

The group, which is made up of broadcast station groups covering about 90% of all homes, will also be showing an upgraded version of its mobile DTV platform at NAB between April 16 and 19.

"We are very excited about the consumer product we've put together because it is the natural next step for broadcast TV and the natural next step for the evolution of spectrum," noted Brown.

Citing a number of statistics on rapidly growing mobile device usage and mobile video consumption Brown also noted that "when you look at the over 34 million tablets sold in 2011 and start thinking about how fast that usage is growing, it becomes a very exciting proposition for broadcasters."

That growing usage is also attracting strong interest from advertisers on for the mobile DTV broadcasts, which will offer interactive banner ads and a number of other sponsorship opportunities at launch. "There is explosive growth in mobile advertising and while it is a small amount of advertising today, there is a lot of spending trending towards it," Brown says.

Specific sponsors won't be announced until closer to the soft launches, but Brown said they'd such strong advertiser interest that "we've had to prioritize who can participate."

Each of the individual members of the Mobile500 will be deciding when to launch the platform, but the soft launches or tests could be followed quickly be launches at other stations as early as the fall of 2012, Brown also explains.

"It will be up to the individual stations but we will certainly be looking at the Fisher stations this year," she says.

Factors affecting the launch timing include upgrades to equipment and getting dongles into the market. The dongles that are being supplied by Elgato will allow users to receive the signals on their existing iPads or iPhones.

The dongle "will initially be a $99 device that gives you everything, the app, the sign-on etc.," she said. "We went with the dongle because there are millions and millions of iPads and iPhones out in the market and this was the shortest way to market."

The stations are still deciding how many of the dongles, they will be bringing into the market for the summer tests.

The Mobile500 had demoed their platform for delivering live TV broadcasts and on demand content to mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads at CES but the demonstrations at NAB and the soft launch on the two stations will add a number of new features to the system.

"The product we launched at CES had a lot of functionality and got a lot of attention but now we are able to show what we're calling our phase two product that integrates far more functionality and some new elements that everyone has been waiting for," she says.

At CES, the group showed technology for delivering live TV over mobile signals as well as functions that would allow users to record live TV and access on demand content and an electronic programming guide. The solution also featured banner ads, interstitial ads and pre-roll ads to generate new revenue.

At NAB, the demo will show such additional features as: social media integration with twitter; interactive banner ads that could potentially allow users to click on an ad and order a pizza or some other product; closed captioning services; and a micro-USB receiving device.

Further features will be added for the mid-year tests, including conditional access and audience measurement.

Brown also stressed that the mobile DTV technology, which broadcasts signals from one point to many uses, is a much more efficient use of spectrum and a better way to tap into the growing demand for over-the-top video on mobile devices than current cellular networks that are running into capacity issues.

In developing the platform, Brown noted that they had brought in technology partners that have provided them with insights from around the world in how mobile DTV works. "We're learning what worked in Korea and what worked in Europe," she says.

Technology partners announced at CES include Elgato, which is supplying the adapter/dongles that allow the devices to receive the signals; Siano, which supplies mobile DTV chips; Expway's mobile DTV middleware and electronic service guide; and Opanga Networks and its NetRover Mobile content distribution platform.

Since then, the group has added Nielsen and Rentrak who will be supplying measurement services and brought in a Denver ad agency Accelerated Media.

Brown also noted that the technology might also help change investors view of broadcast technology from the perception that it is traditional media to a newer media that might warrant high multiples and valuations.

"If we could be recognized on Wall Street and by investors has being worth more as a multiple of EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] that would be a game changer," Brown says.