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Up Next: New Networks

Anumber of stations are planning to launch mobile DTV services later this year, and the 2011 NAB Show will see some notable demonstrations of the technology, along with significant movement on the development of business plans for mobile channels.

Toward that end, the Mobile500 Alliance of broadcast groups will meet with its members to discuss plans to create a nationwide mobile network.

John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile500, said the group surveyed its members several months ago about their plans to launch mobile DTV services and concluded that uncertainty about business models was “the No. 1 reason” why some stations were holding back on launching mobile broadcasts.

To help overcome that hurdle, the Mobile500’ s executive committee has been meeting in recent months with a number of companies and potential partners. “We ended up agreeing to work with one group that we really felt could bring strategic partners and equity investors together to create an end-to-end mobile DTV network for the U.S.,” Lawson says. The committee will be discussing that plan with members and potential strategic partners at NAB.

At press time, details of what content might be available on a national network was sketchy, but it appears the group will consider multiple channels of national and local content. The line-up might include at least four free channels on a basic tier, some premium subscription services and possibly VOD service delivered over wireless broadband.

For the moment, the Mobile500 does not have agreements with national broadcast networks to carry their programming. Although the group is hoping to bring broadcast networks on board, they also seem to be examining the potential of carrying content from cable programmers and other suppliers.

Various research studies have found that younger Hispanics and other immigrant groups are heavy users of mobile video, and the Mobile500 is also eyeing appropriate targeted content as well.

The Mobile Content Venture and the Mobile500 consortia of broadcasters have announced plans to launch services in at least 40% to 50% of the country this year. Several large station groups, including ABC and CBS owned-and-operated stations, have been taking a wait-and-see attitude toward deployment.

Any announcement detailing what content would be available could help convince both device manufacturers and stations to adopt mobile DTV.

Meanwhile, the Mobile Content Venture has gotten agreements from Fox and NBC, which are members of the group, to use their content, and they plan to launch services with a mix of national network and local programming later this year in 20 markets covering 40% of the country, says Salil Dalvi, co-general manager of MCV and senior VP at NBCUniversal Digital Distribution.

Dalvi notes that the organization has been working with its member stations to prepare for the launch of mobile DTV services and with MobiTV to develop the user interface and program guide for the service.

The group declined to discuss details of its programming offering beyond the fact that it will include both national broadcast and local content and that live TV will be an important component.

“Three-quarters of all viewing is still live TV, and we have a platform that is unparalleled in its ability to delivery live TV,” Dalvi says.

Both Dalvi and Erik Moreno, co-general manager of MCV and senior VP of Fox Networks Group, also stressed that they had been working closely with Mobile500, the Open Mobile Video Coalition and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) on mobile technologies.

“The industry is united” on using the same ATSC technology standard and on the need for conditional access to protect content and “give us " exibility with the business model down the road” to launch paid services, Moreno says. This will provide the basis for rapid adoption by stations, vendors and device manufacturers, he adds.

They also expect the player they are developing for mobile services would be able to handle any additional content created by the Mobile500 group, and that this additional content might actually boost consumer interest. “Both efforts go hand-inhand, and we continue to work with them very closely,” Dalvi says.

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