(Free) Mobile TV Coming to 22 Cities

There was so much NewTeeVee-related news coming out of CES yesterday that this item slipped under the radar. Mobile TV got a potentially big boost this week as the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) announced that a first wave of broadcasters has committed to launching mobile digital television services in 2009. Sixty-three stations in 22 U.S. cities (roughly 35 percent of U.S. households) say they will provide live, local and national over-the-air digital television to mobile devices.

The OMVC’s plan bypasses mobile carriers, instead using an ATSC broadcasting system that beams the signal directly to the device. As a result, the mobile TV service would be free and ad-supported, running the same commercials included with the broadcast. As The Associated Press points out, broadcasting via over-the-air signals could be more useful in an emergency, as heavy use wouldn’t clog cell networks.

But for the time being those signals will be falling on deaf devices. While LG showed off prototype phones at CES, and other consumer electronics companies such as Samsung have signed on to the project, there are no firm launch dates for handsets capable of receiving these transmissions.

Plus, cell carriers are like Glenn Close in Fatal Attaction — they’re not going to be ignored. AT&T (s T) and Verizon (s VZ) hawk phones that offer their own mobile TV solution through Qualcomm’s (s QCOM) MediaFLO mobile TV technology, which will be expanding into 100 new markets this year. The OMVC says it’s in discussions with carriers, but no agreements are in place yet.

Twenty-five broadcasting groups are participating in the OMVC program, including network affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and PBS. Markets where the service will roll out this year include New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta.