NAB 2010: Broadcasters Reprise Mobile DTV Pitch

But spectrum debate changes the tone
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NAB Show 2010: Complete Coverage From B&C
About
400 broadcasters gathered Monday morning (Apr. 12) at the NAB show in Las Vegas for a breakfast
panel discussion on mobile DTV that in many ways was a repeat performance of
the mobile DTV session at last year's convention. Members of the
Open Mobile Video Coalition touted the power of new mobile DTV transmission
technology to better serve their audience with local content on the go,
discussed an upcoming consumer trial in Washington,
D.C., and demonstrated a Dell
netbook with a built-in mobile DTV receiver chip.

Like
last year, there were no concrete details on the business model for mobile DTV.
There was also no announcement of a deal with a wireless carrier to broadly
implement mobile DTV reception in cellphones, though insiders say that several
large station groups are currently involved in such discussions.

There
are some concrete differences in mobile DTV development between 2009 and 2010,
however, which were highlighted in the discussion moderated by Fox Business
Financial Editor Nicole Petallides and featuring ION Media Chairman and CEO
Brandon Burgess, Gannett Broadcasting President Dave Lougee, and Dell VP John
Thode.

For
one, there is now an official ATSC mobile DTV standard in place, which was
ratified last fall. There are now some 45 stations on-air today with mobile
DTV, a point driven home by news segments from WSOC Charlotte, WGBH Boston,
WRAL Raleigh and WBNS Columbus that promoted their stations' mobile DTV
services to viewers. And the Dell netbook is now a real commercial product
slated to launch this year, joined by a host of accessory mobile DTV receivers.

More
important, the consumer trial in Washington, D.C. that was originally scheduled
for last fall is now due to launch on May 3, with roughly 200 Sprint customers
getting Moment smartphones from Samsung with integrated mobile DTV chips. The
trial will feature a mix of free local broadcast and cable network programming,
with 20 channels being delivered by nine stations.

Another
difference is that many broadcasters are now touting the power of mobile DTV as
part of the national spectrum debate, as stations fight to retain their
spectrum in the face of an FCC broadband plan that would reclaim a significant
slice and repurpose it for wireless broadband services.

NAB President
Gordon Smith tackled this issue head-on in introductory remarks he gave at the
breakfast, where he talked about mobile DTV as part of a "digital renaissance"
for broadcasters that also includes multicasting and potentially even 3D TV, a
hot topic on the floor.

"All
of this takes spectrum," said Smith. "You've got to use it or you lose it, it's
kind of like a muscle. All of us are looking at this spectrum grab as a great
threat, but also as an opportunity for us to claim."

Smith
noted some 150 stations will be on-air with mobile DTV by year-end, and that
the Washington
trial will aid broadcasters' lobbying as it will "enable us to go to
Congressional offices and show them the future. The amazing thing is that in
this post 9/11 world, a local TV service will be available to [consumers] on
cellphones and blackberries. This is truly a matter of homeland security, and
OMVC is helping to lead the way."

Lougee
also touched on the public safety benefits of mobile DTV, describing the power
outages the Washington, D.C. area suffered this winter due to severe
snowstorms and the way his neighbors with generators provided access to free
over-the-air TV as the lone source of information. He said the situation would
have been very different with a mobile DTV receiver and a cellphone charger in a car.

"Think
back to 9/11 and other unimaginable days like that," said Lougee. "This is an
incredibly attractive, efficient use of spectrum from a broadband policy
perspective."

Burgess,
however, doesn't believe in using homeland security as a way to pitch mobile
DTV's benefits. Instead, he believes that broadcasters should promote it on its
own merits, as a way to serve their audience better. He said that he made that
point over dinner with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Sunday night, where
he pointed out that broadcasters "had started this project long before the
spectrum debate."

Burgess
said that while some broadcasters might want "to hijack" mobile DTV as a
lobbying tool in the spectrum debate, "I try not to."

Instead,
he emphasizes services like Qubo, ION's channel of children's programming, as
unique new offerings that could be brought to a mobile platform.

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