CES: Verizon Talks Mobile TV

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Live mobile television may soon become a mainstream reality now that Verizon has announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that it will launch V Cast Mobile TV, a broadcast mobile TV service provided by Qualcomm subsidiary MediaFLO, in the first quarter of 2007.

The V Cast Mobile TV service, pricing for which was not disclosed, will feature network content from CBS, Fox, NBC, and MTV Networks, including Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon, that can be received on new mobile phones from LG and Samsung. The programming will not simply be a simulcast of existing network programming, according to John Stratton, Verizon EVP and chief marketing officer, but “the best of what TV has to offer.”

For example, one channel demonstrated by Qualcomm executives on a Samsung phone was a compilation of programming from NBC News, including content from MSNBC, CNBC, NBC’s Today and Nightly News with Brian Williams. Stratton also suggested that V Cast Mobile TV will carry some live programming, such as sporting events, so fans can follow their teams while they are on the go.

The service will not launch with any content from local broadcasters, though Stratton says “there is an ability, over time, to build in local programming.” The V Cast Mobile TV programming will first be offered in East and West coast programming blocks, similar to satellite services.

Verizon President and COO Denny Strigl positioned V Cast Mobile TV as an example of Verizon’s two-fold strategy “to build great content delivery systems and deliver great content.” He said it would be a great companion to FiOS TV, Verizon’s fiber-based television service, which unveiled a new interactive program guide in Las Vegas.

But the reality is that the programming and technology behind V Cast Mobile TV is being sold on a wholesale basis to Verizon Wireless by Qualcomm and its MediaFLO subsidiary, which purchased the broadcast spectrum on UHF channel 55 that will be used to deliver the service and is negotiating the content deals with programming networks. 

Qualcomm Chairman and CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs and MediaFLO president Gina Lombardi were both in attendance at the Verizon event.

MediaFLO, which is currently up and running in several test markets including Las Vegas, has been hampered by broadcasters' interference concerns and a drawn-out review of those concerns by the FCC.

But Lombardi says her company is now “doing well” in working with the FCC, which finally set an interference threshold for the service in October.
She also says that local broadcasters on channels that would be affected by MediaFLO’s launch on Ch. 55 have been “very receptive” to negotiating agreements regarding interference to their current broadcast operations (stations in channels 52-69 will eventually be vacating those channels anyway as part of the digital TV transition).

Nonetheless, problems still remain in large markets such as San Francisco, where MediaFLO has been unable to launch because of the interference it would cause to Cox station and Fox affiliate KTVU Oakland, which broadcasts DTV on Ch. 56. Lombardi wouldn’t comment on whether V Cast Mobile TV would be available in San Francisco or detail which major markets will get the service this year.

V Cast Mobile TV should have about 20 channels at launch, says Lombardi, and seven are live on-air in Las Vegas this week for demonstrations.

The MediaFLO service has been tested with about 4,000 consumers nationwide, she says, and MediaFLO has done trials with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile in addition to Verizon Wireless.

“We’ve learned a lot,” says Lombardi. “But mainly, people who already love TV really love the service.”

MediaFLO may be getting some new competition in the mobile TV space. Crown Castle International announced early Monday that its subsidiary, Modeo, has launched a beta test of its own mobile TV service in New York City.

Modeo says it began distributing Modeo Mobile TV Smartphones, which receive live broadcasts using the DVB-H transmission standard, last week of December. The trial will run with several hundred participants, which Modeo describes as a “select group of wireless carriers, reporters, industry analysts, financial analysts, and content providers,” through the first quarter of 2007.

Modeo is also onsite in Las Vegas demonstrating its service, in partnership with Microsoft and HTC, the developer and manufacturer of its Smartphone.

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