Syncbak Makes Its Case for Mobile

Station groups explore launching live feeds with versatile, cellular tech
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Mobile devices and tablets are a mainstream phenomenon, with more than 225 million smartphones and tablets already at work in American homes. But broadcasters still have not settled on the best technology for delivering live programming to those devices.

Most TV stations now offer apps for the delivery of content over existing cellular networks, with many either launching or planning to launch mobile DTV broadcasts using a portion of their broadcast spectrum. But a growing number of stations are also offering live programming over cellular networks using a system from media technology company Syncbak.

Syncbak founder and CEO Jack Perry says some 65 stations are already using the system, with another 100 waiting to install the necessary equipment. CBS, Sinclair, Raycom, Tribune, Hoak Media, Cowles California Media, Morgan Murphy Media, Cordillera Communications, Northwest Broadcasting, Quincy and ComCorp are among the 30 station groups testing or deploying the technology.

Unlike the mobile DTV broadcasters that use a part of their spectrum to deliver programming to mobile devices, Syncbak uses traditional cellular networks. That means users need a reliable 3G or 4G signal, and they also need to pay for data usage. Both approaches have built-in capabilities for measurement, which is important for advertising, and both are working with Nielsen.

While mobile DTV broadcasts are relatively inexpensive to set up—requiring a $100,000-$200,000 capital outlay— the price of Syncbak deployment might be only 10% of that. “The cost is negligible,” notes Rich Adams, COO of Hoak Media, which is deploying the system at all of its stations, including one in North Platte, Neb., DMA No. 209.

Syncbak currently works with all Apple and Android phones and devices, which allows it to reach a large audience. In contrast, users must buy additional equipment if they want to receive mobile DTV signals on their existing smartphones and tablets, and mobile operators have been reluctant to offer mobile DTV-enabled smartphones.

Both the mobile DTV broadcasts and the Syncbak feeds overcome some important copyright and legal issues because they are only available to those users in a station’s DMA. That gives them a distinct advantage over more traditional apps or mobile websites that can often be accessed by people outside a station’s market.

Earlier in his career, Perry created technology that enabled satellite providers to manage distant signals. In 2009, he founded Syncbak to address similar problems in the mobile world. “Not unlike satellite, we needed to figure out how people could get the right ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliate on their mobile phone,” he says.

In 2010, Perry raised seed capital from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters. “We liked the concept of having a technology that could maintain localism and the geographic boundaries,” says Brian Markwalter, senior VP of research and standards at the CEA.

Since then, the company has also been working on expanding the available content from local newscasts to syndicated and network fare. Currently, Perry estimates that the average Syncbak station offers three to five hours of programming, but that number is growing.

“Warner Bros. is working with a number of our broadcasters to clear individual [syndicated] shows,” Perry says. He adds Syncbak will soon have an announcement for the availability of some primetime network content.

To deploy the system, stations install a Syncbak box that takes the broadcast feed from the control room and embeds authentication data into the signal, which is then sent to the cloud. Here, the company manages which programs have been cleared and what parts of the feed can be sent to mobile devices. A proprietary authentication system makes sure that only users in the right areas get the signals.

Although Syncbak has a number of advantages over other mobile delivery platforms, most stations are experimenting with more than one technology. “We all know we have to be on mobile,” says Paul Dughi, president of Cowles California Media, which is deploying Syncbak. “But right now, everyone is experimenting and waiting to see what will be the preeminent platform.”

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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