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NAB: Tablet Television wants to be the broadcasters’ Aereo

Interesting if somewhat shambolic unveiling of a new, broadcaster-friendly mobile TV option here at NAB from Tablet Television, a joint venture between Granite Broadcasting and U.K.-based Motive Television.

The venture is hoping to market a portable ATSC tuner with a WiFi transponder that sends over-the-air broadcast signals to tablets via an app. The device can also receive a datacasting stream embedded in the ATSC signal that will support a still-to-be-developed VOD service.

Consumers who sign up would get a “kit,” consisting of the tuner device and the app. At a hastily called (and sparsely attended) press conference this morning, Tablet TV’s Luc Tomasino said pricing for the kit has not been determined yet but would be under $100. Beyond that, consumers would not be charged to receive OTA signals, but the VOD service would feature both subscription and pay-per-view options.

Broadcasters who sign up to participate would become Tablet TV affiliates and would be expected to market the service and make bandwidth available for the datacast VOD service (about 1 Mb out of the 19 Mb in an ATSC channel). In return, broadcasters would get co-op marketing payments and a cut of the VOD revenue. The real upside for broadcasters, however, is expected to come from incremental advertising revenue from the expanded, tablet-viewing audience.

Because the system leverages broadcasters’ existing ATSC infrastructure the service can be implemented at very little cost, Tomasino claimed. “There’s not rip and replace involved,” he said.

The tuners, which are still being refined, will be smnchall enough to fit in your pocket, Tomasino said. The company hopes to launch a beta version of the service with Granite-owned KOFE in San Francisco “in the June-July timeframe.”

It’s an interesting idea in that it would allow broadcasters to offer viewers both in-home access to their signals at very low cost. Because it relies on their existing OTA signal the system would not raise any of the re-broadcast or re-transmission issues raised by Aereo.

The current need for an external dongle to receive the signal, however, is likely to  be a significant barrier to adoption for a lot of consumers. Until Tablet Televisision can miniaturize its platform to where it can be embedded on a table SoC it’s probably a niche product.

Even then, as Tomasino acknowledged, it will be one of hundreds of apps and platforms vying to get on-boarded by tablet makers. Tomasino said the company is engaging in those conversations now, but thinks it will be three to five years before the components are small enough to embed.

Another potential problem is the low barrier to entry by competitors. Basically, Tablet TV is pulling together a few well-known technologies and developing and app, none of which is proprietary.

It’s best bet may be to seize the first-mover advantage and partner with someone like Samsung, which might see Tablet TV as a way to more closely connect its smart TVs and its tablets.