OMVC Does Mobile DTV Tour
Tour included TV signals on prototype cell phone receivers, Samsung's new integrated chip
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/16/2009 2:27:43 PM
It was one small bus trip for a broadcaster, one potentially giant leap for broadcasting-kind. That was the message Friday as broadcasters celebrated mobile DTV on what they said was a historic day for the future of the medium.
The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), comprising more than 800 TV stations, took reporters, broadcasters and tech executives on a bus tour of D.C. Friday morning, the first such demonstration since the official adoption of the mobile DTV standard produced by the coalition in conjunction with the Advanced Television Systems Committee.
"This is a historic day, and not just in the 26-year history of ATSC but for the entire broadcast industry," said ATSC President Mark Richer as the bus left the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters building in Northwest Washington.
The tour included TV signals on prototype cell phone receivers, as well as prototypes of dongles for PC's and one for the iPhone and iTouch, as well as Samsung's new integrated chip, smaller than a little-finger nail.
Consumer tests in D.C. and Baltimore begin in January and representatives from stations in both markets were among the passengers and presenters on the tour through the rainy streets of the city.
It was certainly a big day for Mark Aitken, director of advanced technology, for Sinclair, whose WNUV Baltimore is participating in the test. Sinclair had been banging the drum for the value of mobile TV since the late 1990s. "We have believed for better than 10 years that mobile was possible, and have been integral in bringing the industry together to understand the importance of that as part of its repertoire," he said.
How important is mobile to the future of broadcasting? David Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting (Gannett's WUSA Washington is also part of the D.C. trial) said, "I think it is a very important piece of it. And it is a tremendous opportunity for us in the sense that we have already made the significant investment [in digital TV]. I think it is a sweet spot for all the different potential players on the ecosystem; the consumer, the wireless carriers and the programmers."
Gannett has 23 stations in 19 markets. "I think we will be rolling out a lot of our markets next year," Lougee said. "I haven't decided in the final analysis which ones we will do yet. Some of it will be the business modeling. But we can roll them out fast. You don't have to do a lot of financial planning to do it. So, as the business model pieces come together we can roll markets out very fast. With the right model you can have a national footprint very quick. There is a system already built out."
What's in it for broadcasters? Among the business models kicked around during the bus ride were pay services, like VOD, and targeted advertising.
"We can all claim that we know what the business model is," said Aitken, "but the point in doing the consumer trial [starting in January in D.C. and Baltimore] is to figure that out. You can throw darts at a dart board, but unless you know the right velocity, you're not going to hit the bull's eye. We're convinced that there are multiple businesses. The simple extension of the advertising model is the first one that no one is going to argue. The ability to precisely measure audience is an integral part of the standard. It provides the basis for going back to the advertising community and providing the same kind of metrics that are available, and virtually demanded, today.
Lougee also says that, "because of some things that have been built into the chip...there is the opportunity for targeted advertising."
There were actually two tours Friday -- the first was for FCC staffers, though no commissioners or chairman. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was in broadband meetings and a couple of the commissioners were out of town, said one of the event's organizers. That is in contrast to a demonstration in Las Vegas several years ago, he said, when then FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took the tour and even stayed on the bus afterwards to ask questions.
"We motored around the city for nearly an hour with 10 FCC staffers," said John Lawson of Ion Media, who made the earlier trip. "We showed seven different live, mobile channels from six different [Washington] broadcasters, with steady reception on over a dozen new cell phones, netbooks, and DVD players. It was literally a tour de force of broadcasters using their spectrum more and more efficiently to provide cool new services to the public."
He said one of the things that appeared to impress the FCC staffers was the fact that stations could fit mobile and HDTV and a couple of standard-definition streams into their channels.
Samsung announced it has developed a single DTV/rf frequency chip for receivers that will be cheaper and more energy efficient. It displayed the chip in a receiver with a head-turningly sharp picture. But it is only a prototype. There are currently no deals with wireless carriers to install the chips in handsets, but talks are ongoing.
The coalition has not been negotiating due to antitrust concerns, but talks between broadcast groups and carriers are ongoing. "I expect you will likely see a 2010 carrier agreement," said OMVC Executive Director Anne Schell. "The business models are there."
Aitken said that at least two major networks are "tied into discussions" of affiliate-based negotiations. "I don't think anybody in their right mind believes that a broadcaster or station will deal with a carrier. I expect you will see affiliate bodies or numbers of groups approaching that subject."
Schell also says she expects Verizon and AT&T to want to add local TV broadcasts to their lineups.
Is Lougee confident there will be deals with wireless carriers by next year? "They are going to ask: 'What's in it for me?' And I think the answer is we're going to have to show them what's in it for them."
The Battle Should Begin Now!
The formal approval of the ATSC M/H as the mobile DTV standard A/153 was entirely expected after it was approved as a candidate standard in April 2009 and subsequent field trials. However the issue is how fast the action can pick up now. Mobile TV using FLO technology is now strongly rolling out through mobile industry leaders AT&T ( AT&T Mobile TV) and Verizon( VCAST). FLO had been earlier restricted to only select markets due to the lack of availability of a UHF channel. This hurdle has now been removed. The FLO service is at present operating using just one or two channels ( UHF channels 54/55) across the United states, in the markets where it is available. By all accounts it is a very successful service. It is designed for mobile devices and is not an adaptation of a large screen technology to “also” serve mobile devices. It provides nearly 20 video channels in a 6 MHz spectrum slot, which is way beyond its competitors.
In contrast, by all logic ATSC M/H has the support of TV broadcasters and is likely to have much larger resources at its disposal in terms of ATSC spectrum which is available with TV stations. The variety of TV channels available will also be larger with nearly 800 stations being a part of the open mobile video coalition (OMVC).
However the operators of ATSC M/H services will still need the support of mobile operators for successfully launching the services. This is where the scene gets interesting.
While AT&T and Verizon, with more than 50 % of mobile users amongst them are for the moment committed to MediFLO, riding on and providing services on its infrastructure, FLO TV is having a robust growth. This leaves T-Mobile and Sprint as the other possible major mobile carriers.
But looking at the broader market, MediaFLO it is also considering entering distribution on its own. AT&T and Verizon, also have their 3G based mobile TV services, CV and V CAST which provide live streaming mobile TV channels on the 3G networks which have been upgraded to HSPA. These carriers therefore have stakes in boosting their own mobile Video services. One must not forget that their associated businesses of IPTV ( Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse TV) are doing exceedingly well with over 5 million customers and high ARPUs and they have every reason to use their mobile customer bases which are their assets to leverage to provide 3G based mobile TV to retain the ARPUs at home. An external TV service, therefore is attractive to them only if they get a good revenue share.
The market will therefore be determined by how fast ATSC M/H broadcasters can get deals in place with mobile carriers, to get the chips in the handsets and to get such handsets approved. Quite a list. Many of the channels will be free to air in the initial period, which makes it even more challenging, as there are no revenues to share. But there is no doubt that eventually all the major carriers will come in once the broadcasters have found ways to compensate them.
This of course opens up the market for multiple possibilities. There is little doubt that the broadcasters organized under the OMVC will need the support of mobile operators, some of which have conflicting interests, at least for the moment. But by early 2010, the services should begin to have greater visibility.
One would normally think that free to air mobile TV channels such as in T-DMB networks of Korea should be able to penetrate to a large number of handsets and users. But in Korea, this has required considerable support and push from the government. The situation is similar in Japan where the ISDB-T One segment mobile TV phones which can receive the free to air exceed 60 million. Upto 80% of the new phones sold come with mobile TV tuners built in. The US markets are somewhat different; however, as here the carriers have much greater control on the handsets which can be used in the networks. Perhaps FCC will step in at some point to ensure that handsets with DTV receiver chips do not face any hurdles. In China, the number of cities where CMMB services were available jumped to over 190 and every new 3G handset (TD-SCDMA) to be approved needs to have a CMMB tuner. This alone has boosted the number of users to over 20 million making China the fastest growing market for mobile TV in the world over the last one year. Obviously we cannot expect the same here but then what can we expect?
In any event, the developments in the next two months are like to be fast paced and may lead to some tie ups which may surprise even the seasoned industry observers.
Amitabh Kumar - 10/22/2009 5:01:40 AM EDT
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