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."