MediaFlo Primes for Growth
Mobile TV service looks for coverage boost from DTV transition, explores branded channels like Victoria's Secret TV.
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/30/2008 7:00:00 PM
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GROWING ITS MOBILE FOOTPRINT
Fans of the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which will be broadcast by CBS Dec. 3, won't need to sit in front of a TV to catch their favorite sexy models. Instead, they can watch it on the go—provided they are a Verizon Wireless or AT&T subscriber with a cellphone that receives MediaFlo's live mobile TV service.
A special Victoria's Secret TV channel, which MediaFlo is broadcasting, is an example of the type of exclusive programming that MediaFlo hopes will make its $15 monthly subscription service more compelling to users and advertisers.
Watch a clip from Victoria's Secret TV below:
The Qualcomm subsidiary is available in 58 major markets. It pushes for special-event and sports programming to complement the primetime fare it carries from networks including CBS, NBC, Fox, MTV and Comedy Central.
As it moves toward its second anniversary as a live service, MediaFlo is looking for a coverage boost from the DTV transition and a possible expansion into new platforms, such as in-car TVs, handheld game players and other portable display devices. It is also exploring other branded channels like Victoria's Secret TV.
Last summer, MediaFlo teamed with ESPN to provide live coverage and highlights from the X-Games with a dedicated channel, EXPN, that ran over two weeks. It has also partnered with NBC, Fox and CBS to provide live coverage of other major sports events. A major holdout: The NFL signed an exclusive deal with Sprint to provide live streaming of its games through the rival MobiTV mobile video service.
Since Nov. 15 (the day the Victoria's Secret show was taped in Miami), Victoria's Secret TV has been providing around-the-clock pre-show coverage, including interviews with models, profiles and other fashion-related features. After the Dec. 3 simulcast, it will continue to broadcast post-show coverage through Jan. 2.
According to Matt Milne, MediaFlo USA senior VP of sales and marketing, creating a temporary, dedicated Victoria's Secret channel made sense because the content appeals to both male and female audiences.
GROWING ITS MOBILE FOOTPRINT
While the downturn in the economy creates doubts about the mobile phone business (see related story, "Will the Economic Crisis Ground Mobile TV"), MediaFlo is certain of one growth driver in 2009. That's because the upcoming shutoff of analog broadcast signals on Feb. 17, 2009, will allow a significant expansion in coverage for the mobile TV service.
MediaFlo will be able to turn on service in markets where Channel 55 has previously been occupied or where broadcasting on that channel would have interfered with stations currently operating on adjacent channels, such as top-20 markets Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Miami.
The company will also be able to increase its power levels in markets where it is currently operating at reduced power to minimize interference with existing broadcast signals.
Says Milne: “Almost every market will improve with the DTV transition.”
In Los Angeles, for example, MediaFlo's signals currently cover 52% of the market; it will reach 94% after Feb 17.
Moreover, the end of analog broadcasts paves the way for MediaFlo to eventually launch service on the Channel 56 spectrum it acquired last spring as part of the FCC's 700-megahertz auction. Qualcomm spent $554.6 million to gain channel 56 spectrum in the Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco regions, complementing the Channel 55 spectrum. That gives it a total footprint of 12 MHz across much of the East and West coasts. Altogether, the new spectrum will allow MediaFlo to reach more than 68.1 million potential customers in 28 MediaFlo markets.
MediaFlo plans to work with Verizon Wireless and AT&T to roll out second-generation mobile handsets that will be able to tune into both channels simultaneously, receiving 40 streams of live video.
MediaFlo uses an OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing)-based modulation scheme to broadcast from multiple transmitter locations within a market, in the type of distributed transmission system known as a single-frequency network (SFN). The transmitters operate at a relatively low power compared with traditional UHF broadcasts, with a ceiling of 50 kilowatts. MediaFlo won't disclose exactly how many transmitters it needs to cover an urban market like New York, but industry sources put the number at five to 10.
Informal testing conducted by Broadcasting & Cable using an AT&T/Samsung handset showed that MediaFlo reception within Manhattan and its immediate suburbs was robust, receivable within the B&C offices at 26th Street and Park Ave., throughout the streets of Midtown Manhattan and both indoors and outdoors on the Upper East Side. It also worked well at a private home in Bergen County, N.J., some 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, and on a commuter train trip to Hoboken, N.J. (with the exception of a short loss of service while transiting a tunnel).
MediaFlo also worked reasonably well while driving at highway speeds in the greater tri-state area. Reception was rock-solid down the Garden State Parkway to Red Bank, N.J., which is a 100-minute train trip from New York's Penn Station, as well as along Interstate 287 heading toward and over the Tappan Zee Bridge.
As one headed northeast and east of Manhattan, into Westchester County, N.Y., and toward Westport, Conn., reception was more problematic. The signal dropped out east of the Tappan Zee and was only sporadically available after that. But upon reaching Westport, which is a 60-minute train ride from Manhattan, it worked perfectly once the user's car was stationary.
MediaFlo's goal is to provide coverage at least 30 to 40 miles from a market center, says Cullen Childress, senior director of product management for MediaFlo USA: “We wouldn't turn on a market with the service unless we had reasonable amounts of coverage.”
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