Broadcasters Announce Plan to Use Spectrum Before They Lose It

A dozen broadcast TV firms, including Fox, NBC and others, have announced 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 services rather than hand it over to wireless carriers.

The consortium is made up of owned & operated station groups Fox (s NWS), NBC (s GE), and ION Television, as well as local broadcast groups Belo Corp (s BLC), Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps (s SSP), Gannett Broadcasting (s GCI), Hearst Television, Media General (s MEG), Meredith Corp (s MDP), Post-Newsweek Stations (S WPO) and Raycom Media. To lead their participation in the initiative, the nine local groups have combined to form a joint venture called Pearl Mobile DTV Company LLC.

The launch of the venture comes as the FCC seeks to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum currently being used to deliver broadcast channels over the airwaves. After forcing broadcasters to switch spectrum through the digital television transition, the commission now is trying to reclaim some broadcast spectrum for mobile broadband services in an effort to avert a possible spectrum crisis.

Faced with the prospect of using it or losing it, these broadcasters have decided that, rather than cede valuable spectrum to the wireless industry, they would use it to create their own mobile video services. By doing so, the group argues that not only will the launch of mobile DTV services add a new revenue stream for participating broadcasters, but the service will alleviate some of the strain placed on carrier networks from video traveling over the mobile Internet. Since the service would run over their own dedicated spectrum, consumers could watch mobile TV without having to surf the mobile web and clog networks built out by AT&T (s T), Verizon (s VZ) and others.

By contributing existing broadcast spectrum, the group says it will be able to reach nearly 150 million U.S. residents with the mobile video service. In addition to spectrum, the broadcasters are contributing content, market resources and cash to get the venture off the ground. The initiative will use the mobile digital video standard developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). Along with the broadcasters, LG Electronics and Samsung have announced support for the initiative, and will be producing consumer electronics devices that can pick up the group’s mobile digital TV signals.

Even as the broadcasters attempt their own mobile television service, it’s worth noting that Qualcomm’s (s QCOM) FLO TV, which pushed out a rival mobile television effort by Crown Castle (s CCI), hasn’t exactly had a stellar record of adoption. As much as Americans like their television, the idea of watching broadcast TV on their mobile phones so far hasn’t proven to be a concept they’re willing to pay for.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Mobile Market Overview, Q1 2010 (subscription required)