NBC, Fox, 10 Others Ante Up In Mobile TV, First Content To Come In 2011

Mobile TV has had a mixed reception in the U.S. – with the assets of one recent high profile failure, Qualcomm’s Flo TV, the subject of speculation just this week – but this is not stopping the market from trying to find the sweet spot in the medium anyway. Mobile Content Venture – a JV of 12 broadcasters that includes heavyweights like NBC (NYSE: GE), Fox, ION and Cox – today set out their own mobile TV roadmap, committing to two mobile DTV signals in 20 markets by the end of 2011.

At first, the MCV group looked like a bit of a posturing exercise. The JV, announced in April 2010, came together in the wake of the FCC releasing its National Broadband Initiative, which proposed to refarm spectrum currently belonging to broadcasters, and use it for mobile broadband – the spectrum would become available in as analogue channels switched to digital. The broadcasters, however, want to hold on to their spectrum to use for their own services – whatever they might be.

This latest announcement appears to give legs to the consortium’s plan. The cities that would be covered in the first wave of DTV services are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, Tampa, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Orlando, Portland, Cincinnati, Greenville, West *Palm* Beach, Birmingham, and Knoxville. In all, 40 percent of the U.S. population would be covered.

But the service, which would provide two live, broadcast signals in each of these markets, will need other pieces to fall into place to become something people can acutally use. For one, consumers will need devices enabled to receive DTV signals. MCV says it is working with “various OEMs and device manufacturers” to make sure these will be available by the end of 2011. Device issues have hampered many a mobile TV service in the past.

It is also still unclear what, exactly, will be on these stations: initially it may just be rebroadcasts of local affiliate stations, but which ones will go live in which markets – and how much that will mean in terms of investment for these companies – has yet to be announced. But the MCV may have further plans to use the network to deliver other kinds of content – “sports and entertainment programming, as well as local and national news from print and electronic sources” as the release describes it – over the network.

Supporters of DTV claim the technology is more “spectrally efficient” than 3G and 4G, so it could be a potentially useful way of delivering other kinds of rich media content to users.

Despite the many setbacks that other mobile TV initiatives have had, In-Stat forecasts that in the U.S. there will be 30 million ATSC Mobile DTV devices deployed by 2014.

MCV is being led by Salil Dalvi, SVP of digital distribution at NBC, and Erik Moreno, an SVP at Fox. The full group of broadcasters involved are Fox, ION Television, NBC and Pearl Mobile DTV, LLC. Members of Pearl include Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC), Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps (NYSE: SSP) Co., Gannett (NYSE: GCI) Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., Media General Inc. (NYSE: MEG), Meredith Corp. (NYSE: MDP), Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.

Update: the Open Mobile Video Coalition, which represents 900 local broadcasters, also released a statement supporting MCV’s announcement.