After launching its first mobile digital TV (MDTV) service
at the NBC affiliate WCMT-TV in Columbus, Ohio on September 23, Media General
is close to going live with its second service at NBC affiliate WFLA-TV in
Tampa Bay, Fla. The relatively glitch-free launches provide further proof that
the technology for MDTV is ready for prime time even though the mobile devices
needed to see the signals haven't yet hit the market.
"It's been an almost too good to be true kind of
experience," notes Ardell Hill, president of broadcast operations at Media
General. "From the day we issued the purchase order to the folks at Harris
Corp. to the day we went on the air was inside two months. To have a new
technology like this, installed, turned on, tested and on the air in six or
seven weeks is a pretty significant accomplishment. Usually those things don't
happen unless the process is very standardized."
Hill attributes much of this success to Media General's
longstanding involvement with the industry-wide efforts of the Open Mobile
Video Coalition (OMVC) and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) to
develop the technology and standards for MDTV, as well as the strength of their
local tech teams.
Consumers, unfortunately, aren't nearly as ready as the
technology because few mobile devices capable of receiving the signals have
reached the market.
"We're in a chicken and egg world," Hill admits. "But we
clearly accepted the responsibility of being the chicken. We are building the
signal and putting it in the marketplace. As we do that, it will give us a
little time to see how it works before the devices come on online for the
While Media General is not planning to heavily market the
new MDTV services until those devices become available, it will use the next
few months to make consumers more aware of the technology.
"We have a unique window where we can introduce the new
capability to the marketplace through things like business events, sporting
events, fairs and various venues where we can set up a kiosk and let people see
and touch the technology with some of the prototype devices," Hill says.
Hill also notes that the launches will provide them with
valuable experience with the technology and that the stations were chosen in
part because of they offered an excellent case study in the workings of MDTV.
Both stations have a number of similarities, being NBC
affiliates, operating in relatively flat terrains and having strong local tech
teams to handle the rollout. They are both using Harris equipment for the MDTV
services but WCMH-TV is a UHF station and WFLA is VHS.
"The comparison of two NBC affiliates and the differences
between the two stations will give us a very strong knowledge base to implement
MDTV in other markets," Hill notes.
Media General has announced that it will launch as many as
five to seven MDTV services in the coming months and that over time it is
planning to add new features to the services, including graphics customized for
mobile devices and the ability to insert ads.
Hill declined to name which stations are next in line for
MDTV services, saying that was a business decision. But he noted that the
company would be considering a number of criteria in setting its MDTV launch
schedule, including the market size, the likelihood that potential viewers in a
certain market might embrace the newer technology and the prospects for other
broadcasters in the market launching MDTV.
"We know that the consumers like variety and it is
beneficial for the audience if more broadcasters are making the service
available," he says.