MediaFLO Coming to San Francisco in 2009

As any reader of this blog knows, I’m not entirely sold on mobile TV, and I’m especially skeptical of Qualcomm’s MediaFLO network. But earlier this week I chatted with Matt Milne, SVP of marketing and sales for MediaFLO USA, to see if he could change my mind. The good news is that those in San Francisco, Boston, Miami and Houston who want to watch broadcast TV on their mobile phones (and who are on the Verizon or AT&T network) will be able to do so next year. The bad news is they will still have to pay $15 a month for the privilege.

Milne said that once broadcasters are forced to switch over to DTV in February, Qualcomm will have the spectrum to offer MediaFLO service in those four markets and expand its coverage in others. He also acknowledged that the broadcasters represent potential competition for MediaFLO, since they’ve pulled together to create their own over-the-air mobile TV standard designed to deliver free mobile TV to everything from Sony Watchman-type devices to phones.

But Milne isn’t worried, noting that compared to broadcasters’ local content, Qualcomm offers national content, like ESPN. And he thinks individual broadcasters will take their sweet time actually getting anything on the air. There’s also the issue of who owns the content — broadcasters or the creators of the content — which will determine who can broadcast certain shows.

“What has to be determined is what content those local broadcasters have the right to broadcast,” Milne told me. “Clearly they can broadcast the content they create like the news, and our service has to augment whatever is being broadcast by them.”

As usual, Qualcomm didn’t disclose any subscriber numbers, although Milne said folks who do pay for the service tend to watch more than 20 minutes of TV on it per day. He also declined to talk about plans to integrate MediaFLO into vehicles or even laptops using Qualcomm’s Gobi platform. Judging by the tests conducted with Toyota and the need to move TV beyond the tiny cell phone screen and onto new mobile platforms, I’d expect more from MediaFLO in the coming year once it gets all of its spectrum in hand.

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