@CES: Daringly optimistic outlook for Mobile DTV on display

** As published in RCR Wireless News ** LAS VEGAS–It’s been a long time coming, but at this year’s CES many more are willing to say mobile digital television is here and will be ready for consumers in 2010. The Open Mobile Video Coalition, which is comprised of 29 members representing more than 800 stations across the country, showcased a new round of live demonstrations highlighting every member’s place in the ecosystem. Transmitters, receivers, handheld units, netbooks, portable DVD players, USB dongles and other gear were on display during OMVC’s event Wednesday evening. “The excitement about Mobile DTV is here on display at CES,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association. “You are seeing history being made.” While Qualcomm’s FLO TV has enjoyed an essential monopoly on broadcast mobile television via its MediaFLO simulcast network, broadcasters have been scrambling to build an ecosystem and set of standards around a digital broadcast for mobile phones and handheld devices.

By comparison, the OMVC has worked faster on this standard than any other in broadcast history. The OMVC has successfully shepherded an ecosystem for Mobile DTV in just a matter of years while high-definition television took almost a decade to find a footing and color TV standards took decades to complete. All this and still, the speed at which broadcasters have developed a Mobile DTV system is not the biggest news to report from this year’s show. Mobile DTV demonstrations have been the norm at CES and CTIA conferences for around two years, but this year marks the first time a U.S. carrier-backed cellphone actually included the chipset needed to receive signals. Dramatic shift proves progress For years, hardly anyone could imagine a point when carriers would allow such a chipset to be included in a fully functional device running on their network. On the surface, Mobile DTV appears to be in direct competition with carriers’ on-deck TV programming, but the comparisons stop when it comes to the superior quality offered by broadcast services. Crazier things have happened, like Apple letting seemingly direct competitors to iTunes sell in the App Store, but the greater interest for many these days seems to be around driving demand and usage of media, regardless of who does the delivering. “We are all engaged in our future,” Mark Aitken, director of advanced technology at Sinclair Broadcast Group, told RCR Wireless News. He added that an event like this at CES helps solidify the public’s view of what broadcasting is going to be going forward. Aitken pointed out that perhaps 100 broadcasting executives were in attendance for the event, as he underscored the important role they play: “These are the people that will make the content available.” A few of Samsung’s Android-powered Moments, which is being carried by Sprint Nextel Corp., were on display along with a slate of other products from more than a dozen companies at OMVC’s gathering. The companies plan to begin the most extensive Mobile DTV consumer trial yet later this quarter, but from the CES show floor, the experience left something to be desired. Perhaps it was the dungeon-like setting of the event that kept signals jerky at times, but it was also disappointing to only see two local channels working on the Moment while other products were receiving many more. However, this is still a trial and glitches are to be expected along the way. During concluding comments, David Lougee, president of the broadcasting division for Gannett, said there are “robust” discussions going on behind the scenes on the broadcasting community’s plans for a comprehensive business model. But he added that broadcasters view Mobile DTV as a crucial part of the package of broadband services they offer. “Mobile DTV will allow us to serve our communities even more effectively than in the past,” he said.