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Summary:

[qi:032] In a nation with more than 225 million mobile subscribers, only 1.8 million of them watch broadcast television on their cell phones, according to September data from comScore. But a group of more than 800 broadcasters hopes to change all that — by making mobile […]

[qi:032] In a nation with more than 225 million mobile subscribers, only 1.8 million of them watch broadcast television on their cell phones, according to September data from comScore. But a group of more than 800 broadcasters hopes to change all that — by making mobile TV shows both free and available at the same time they’re shown on oldteevee. To that end, in April 2007 those broadcasters formed the Open Mobile Video Coalition, aimed at establishing a standard for the delivery of mobile TV in the soon-to-be-available digital television spectrum.

On Tuesday, members of the OMVC got one step closer to making their dream a reality. The group, in conjunction with the Advanced Television Standards Committee, which was responsible for creating the standard that governs how your TV set receives an HD signal, approved a candidate standard for mobile digital television. In the bureaucratic world of standards-setting, this means the ATSC mobile DTV standard will be the accepted way to deliver mobile broadcast television going forward, although it’s subject to a few additional tweaks. In the real world, this means devices capable of delivering free, mobile TV will come as early 2010.

LG and Samsung, both of which backed the standard, plan to start making devices that will allow for mobile DTV trials next year. After the broadcasters complete the move to digital broadcasting in February 2009, TV stations will start widespread tests of mobile DTV. By early in 2010, according to Anne Schelle, the executive director of the OMVC, consumers should be able to buy such devices off the shelf.

As for the issue of whether or not consumers even want mobile television on tiny screens, Schelle is optimistic. She envisions interactive services and points out that the standard is flexible enough to offer a digital video recorder for time- and place-shifting, if so desired. That level of control would be compelling to broadcasters who see ISPs and even cell phone carriers as standing between them and their viewers. Schelle points out that broadcast television still controls the content people most want to watch, and by delivering that directly to mobile devices broadcasters can satisfy consumers — and by extension, have a better shot at controlling their own destinies.

“I do think there will be a day five years from now where you will be in a restaurant and everyone will pull out their mobile devices and be able to watch a live broadcast of whatever that seminal event of the day is,” Schelle said.

For end users in the U.S. (which is where this mobile broadcast standard will work), that means there will be two ways to watch over-the-air television on the go — via a device that receives the mobile DTV standard or through a carrier’s service built on top of MediaFLO, a Qualcomm technology. While a representative of LG Electronics, which makes phones for carriers that include Qualcomm MediaFLO chips, told me the two services aren’t mutually exclusive, they are competitive. They both want to offer over-the-air broadcast television on mobile devices ranging from phones to laptops to in-car entertainment systems.

But Qualcomm makes money licensing its MediaFLO network to carriers, which charge consumers $15 a month to access the service, while broadcasters plan to have some sort of free offering to anyone who has a device or dongle that can receive the signal. On the other hand, MediaFLO services are available today, while mobile DTV is still a developing standard.

Of course, almost two years after commercial availability of the service, mobile television delivered by MediaFLO is only watched by relatively few. That looks to be changing, however. Matt Milne, SVP of marketing and sales for MediaFLO USA, declined to give out subscriber numbers for the service but said in an email that viewership increased 70 percent in the three months ending September 2008. It’s still possible for MediaFLO to gain more viewers, or for the mobile DTV effort to fail because of a lack of devices or even consumer interest. One way or another, for those keen to tune in to TV on the go, this is a fight worth watching.

Image courtesy of OMVC

  1. “I do think there will be a day five years from now where you will be in a restaurant and everyone will pull out their mobile devices and be able to watch a live broadcast of whatever that seminal event of the day is,” Schelle said.

    He’s saying that like it’s a good thing….?

    Mobile TV will be successful (in a limited way) based on on-demand narrowcasting. Not broadcasting.

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  2. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Erik, I’m with you on this one, but then i think of something like September 11 or the Challenger explosion. TVs were turned on everywhere, and people just stopped to watch whenever they found one. Not sure I’d carry one of these things around though, much less tune in while at a restaurant, but I also know I’m not the target demographic for this sort of device.

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  3. 95% of handsets are subsidized by carriers — why will they allow a OMVC compatible chipset on their handsets/….The technology will work and they will have content, but will get killed on devices….Yes, LG and Samsung may support it, but carriers pay for the handsets and will not subsidize this unless they get a good cut of the business..

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  4. stacey,
    I believe the ATSC broadcasters have a pretty strong value proposition and compliment the on-demand mobile internet offerings. With the opening up of the mobile web, carriers themselves are trying to understand how to monetize off deck revenues, and we shall see the progress towards sustainable business models between carriers and broadcasters / content providers. Lets face the reality, carriers have a direct relationship with the mobile subscriber and broadcasters / content providers own the content rights. There will be something in mobile content for all players in the value chain.

    I love my mobile web, and also do not mind watching broadcast quality television on my phone for compelling content such as live events or breaking news and sports, as long as I do not feel the pinch in my wallet.

    Cheers-

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  5. Looking forward to the next generation of Samsung and LG handsets for some on the go tv watching. I just hope for a bigger screen, which is the real catch for me.

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  6. [...] Broadcasters to Make TV Mobile [...]

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  7. [...] it hardly seems worth fighting for the current crop of mobile TV users, which is miniscule. The Open Mobile Video Coalition is pushing a standard that will allow broadcasters to extend their digital television signals out to devices traveling at [...]

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  8. [...] relatively slow adoption on mobile devices, based on outside over-the-air mobile TV viewing numbers provided by comScore. In addition to increasing its availability to more people in more cities, Qualcomm earlier this [...]

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  9. [...] not sure that the new devices (pictured) that will offer free over-the-air television delivery of broadcast channels to be shown off in a few days at CES, or Qualcomm’s attempts to bring its MediaFLO television [...]

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  10. [...] a joint venture to introduce mobile digital TV services in the US. The initiative, which is a continuation of work done by an industry group called the Open Mobile Video Coalition, aims to re-use broadcast spectrum for mobile digital TV [...]

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