Push for mobile TV

RCR Wireless News
LAS VEGAS — Ever since television was invented in 1926, the industry has seen over-the-air broadcasts reach more screens as the medium exploded in popularity. The industry’s first push was to get a single TV set into as many living rooms as possible, then it was about increasing that reach with additional sets.

Now, broadcasters reach about 110 million televisions in the United States through high-definition and multicast services, but they have the potential to reach an additional 400 million to 500 million screens in the form of cellphones, portable media players, in-car backrests and more, Brandon Burgess, president of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, said on a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters Show last week.

$2B opportunity

“There’s an opportunity here to significantly enhance the footprint,” he said. The OMVC is a group of TV broadcasters representing more than 850 television stations that are pushing for the development and eventual success of a mobile TV standard for broadcasters. Indeed, the group believes there’s a potential windfall of an additional $2 billion in advertising revenue annually from mobile services alone if broadcasters move quickly.

“We feel it’s a very big opportunity with very little downside. We feel that it fulfills the digital vision that was mapped out 20 years ago,” said John Eck, president of NBC TV Network and Media Works. “It supplements delivery to the home.”

Tech choices

OMVC has conducted trials in San Francisco and Las Vegas for the past six months to test three competing technologies for a standard that will be selected by the Advanced Television Systems Committee later this year or early next year, depending on who you ask. The three technologies are: A-VSB, which is backed and jointly developed by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and Rohde & Schwarz; MPH (Mobile-Pedestrian-Handheld), a system developed by LG Electronics Co. Ltd. and Harris Corp; and a third system developed by Thomson and Micronas.

OMVC plans to lay out all the results from the trial in a report it will submit to the ATSC next month. Then it will begin consumer trials.

“The results we’re seeing are encouraging,” Burgess said. “We think feasibility is going to be there so we’re relatively confident that we’ll be able to execute on this.”

Triple play

He added that broadcasters are excited about the opportunity, particularly referring to what he called the “DTV (digital TV) triple play,” which describes broadcasters’ opportunities in high definition, multicast variety and mobile delivery.

“Consumers are already expecting high-quality video on mobile devices,” NBC’s Eck said.

He believes the sweet spot will be a mix of “push-VOD,” or video on demand, live streams and interactive content. “Delivering a live video stream is sort of the minimum requirement,” he said.

“I do think the core opportunity to make sure there is as much penetration as possible is to have as much free, ad-supported content as possible,” Eck said. “It could be a very important additional revenue stream for the industry.”

Eck admits that the struggle with cellphones in particular will be in getting a chipset and antennae built into devices, which might compete with existing similar services.

Challenging MediaFLO

Burgess compared broadcasters’ potential in the wireless space up against MediaFLO USA Inc., a Qualcomm Inc. subsidiary that’s launched live broadcast TV services in more than 50 markets thus far.

Qualcomm will spend an estimated $800 million on its MediaFLO business in the United States, which requires a completely new, standalone network, an expensive proposition compared to broadcasters’ mobile requirements, which will carry a roughly $100,000 cost per tower.

Broadcasters’ advantage lies in their ability to use existing infrastructure (with the addition of an exciter), content and bandwidth, Burgess said.

“We have content that Qualcomm does not have access to, which is where 90% of TV content viewership is based,” he said.

LG has been working on its mobile broadcast solution, MPH for the past eight years, said Jong Kim, president of LG’s Zenith research and development lab.

“MPH will have minimal impact on cost and form factor,” he said, adding that the MPH exciter is simply a plug-and-play upgrade to existing digital broadcast towers. The company tested one in Chicago where it was able to install the equipment and had it up and running in less than 30 minutes, he said.

“MPH is the deployment-ready mobile TV solution for both broadcasters and the industry,” Kim said.

Kim also said a free, over-the-air solution will be critical to mobile TV’s success. However, he doesn’t believe broadcasters will compete directly with the likes of MediaFLO. “This can be complimentary, not competition,” he said.

JaeMoon Jo, VP or core technology at the digital media research and development center at Samsung, said the profitability of MediaFLO is still in question, despite the opportunity for complimentary services from broadcasters.

Neither A-VSB nor MPH backers haven’t outlined any specific comparisons to FLO and DVB-H broadcast technology, but instead focus on broadcasters’ existing infrastructure and business models as a clear differentiator.

A-VSB has said it can still maintain a quality of service at 600 mile per hour while MPH puts its top speed in tests around 180 mph. However, neither has proven those claims in real-world settings.

An early look at AT&T Mobility’s MediaFLO mobile TV service

Passing the baton at CBS Mobile