Next Generation Standards for MDTV

New enhancements to standard could boost revenues
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Even though most broadcasters won't be launching mobile digital TV services until the fall of 2011, the Advanced Television Services Committee is already at work on enhancements to the ATSC M/H (A/153) standard that was formally approved in October of 2009.

Some of these enhancements will provide better measurement of mobile DTV viewing and will allow broadcasters to potentially create new revenue streams from on demand content, better targeted advertising and widgets.

One important potential development is the ATSC's work on the Non-Real Time Content Services (NRT) standard, which would enable a new class of widgets that would make it possible to delivery on demand news, weather and other content while creating a variety of new advertising supported services.

The first round of NRT enhancements, which would enable the broadcast of non-real time content, is expected to be published as a candidate standard in the first quarter of 2011 and then formally approved later in the year. A second round of enhancements to NRT, which will enable more interactivity, will probably appear in 2012.

The development of NRT is important because the first launches of mobile DTV services have simply been simulcasts of linear TV broadcasts, with the same ads spliced into both the TV and mobile feeds. This is helpful as a defensive strategy: It preserves a stations existing audience as viewers spend more time with mobile video but it does not produce any new revenues to cover mobile DTV investments or strengthen the bottom line of stations struggling with a poor ad climate.

The first version of the NRT standard will, however, define a way to push content items out to devices in a one to many fashion, creating a number of opportunities for advertising and other additional revenues, explains Peter Mataga, CTO of Roundbox. Using these enhancements, broadcasters would be able to send out files--say a web page with a news story, graphics, and maybe some sub-pages-to devices, where they are rendered so the user could browse through them without being connected to the Internet.

"Users get a local browsing experience and it is possible to link some of those pages back to the Internet if the device has a connection and can be pulled back onto the broadcaster's web site or an advertiser's web site," he explains.
Roundbox will be offering several widgets to take advantage of these enhancements, which require only minor upgrades from the existing standard to deploy. One widget will allow broadcasters to push out breaking news or weather stories via RSS feeds; another will deliver video clips and files, such as weather reports. "We think it is a very attractive way for broadcasters to drive interest in the service and drive revenues without using a lot of bandwidth," he argues.

Providing a unified front for the broadcast industry to develop these and other enhancements played key role in the decision by the Open Mobile Video Coalition to continue its work on mobile TV standards, adds, Vincent Sadusky president and CEO of LIN Media and the recently elected president of OMVC.

"We've had a very successful effort in getting the ATSC mobile standard approved but the members of the organization felt it was important to keep the organization intact to work on the next phase of development of the product," he explains.

More immediately, Sadusky also notes that the OMVC's technical expertise will play an important political role in helping Congress and the FCC is dealing with spectrum issues.

Worried about a possible lack of wireless spectrum for upcoming devices and services, the FCC has signaled its interest in reclaiming a portion of the broadcast spectrum, a move that broadcasters fear could hurt their ability to rollout mobile digital television services.

"We are hopeful that by being an objective party, OMVC will be able to provide factual information to support arguments about the benefits of mobile television and the fact that the ATSC standard is a wonderful engineering solution to help alleviate a lot of the bandwidth pressure," Sadusky argues.

That's because using the one-to-many architecture of the ATSC standard to broadcasting popular video content, such as sporting events and hit TV shows, to millions of devices would use much less bandwidth than trying to deliver such content to millions of users over the one to one architecture of traditional cellular networks.

Such arguments, mobile DTV proponents argue will also be useful on the business side as they work to forge alliances with wireless carriers, telcos and potentially even cable operators.

"There are projections by Cisco and others that the demand for data over wireless networks is skyrocketing and that this demand is being driven by video," notes John Lawson the recently appointed executive director of the Mobile500 group, which is spearheading the mobile DTV efforts of over 40 broadcasting groups representing over 400 stations. "That is a trend that should work in the favor of broadcasters, because it is almost impossible to deliver popular video content that a lot of consumers want to watch at the same time over a unicast cellular architecture. If you try that you quickly break the network. So we think that there is an important place in the wireless ecosystem for the one-to-many architecture of mobile DTV. That means the network capacity can be reserved for what it does best, which is provide communications on a one to one basis."

While this would relieve congestion for telcos, working closely with carriers will also be crucial for broadcasters.
Telcos have enormous power over the mobile device market-a decision by a major carrier to require their phones to include mobile DTV reception capabilities would push most smart phone makers to add those receivers. Currently these cost under $15 but could drop to only a dollar or two with mass market production.

More importantly, carriers can provide an internet connection to devices, which will be important for broadcasters trying to measure usage, develop new ad revenues and offer rich interactive ads, Lawson notes. "I think eventually there has to be some partnerships between the broadcasters and carriers," Lawson says.

For the moment, however, broadcasters seem resigned to going forward without a carrier deal. "Although we have worked with Sprint for the consumer trials, it looks like the broadcasters will be launching this service over the next year without carrier deals," Lawson notes. "We hope there will be quite a lot of consumer interest and uptake of devices on the retail market and this will start putting some competitive pressure on carriers to work us."

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