At the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) here in warm and sunny Las Vegas, the buzz surrounding mobile TV is everywhere. More than 300 exhibitors-including AT&T, Harris Corporation, LG, QUALCOMM/MediaFLO, Samsung and Verizon Wireless-and numerous technical and business sessions are showing attendees solutions to deploying mobile technology, applications, and content distribution platforms.
Insight Media Consultant
The Open Mobile Video Coalition-an alliance of more than 800 broadcasters accelerating the development of Mobile DTV in the United States-has announced that 63 stations in 22 markets, covering 35 percent of U.S. television households, will launch mobile services this year. LG is promising silicon this June. Trials will soon get underway in Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington, DC. Capitol Broadcasting announced the launch of the first publicly-deployed DTV broadcast service to mobile devices over WRAL in Raleigh, NC. Beginning later this year, the innovative venture will deliver real-time digital television and interactive data to Capital Area Transit (CAT) buses serving passengers throughout the capital city. In addition to WRAL programming, CAT passengers will get city-oriented news briefs, real-time weather and other helpful information on digital screens strategically placed inside buses.
Mobile TV is being touted by its promoters as "enabling content providers to reach new audiences and access new revenue streams." As such, the technology would appear to be poised as a supplement to conventional over-the-air television. But it’s been known for years that broadcasting is being transformed in ways that TV executives can’t keep up with - and the hallway chatter is that free, over-the-air pushed video as a viable and standalone business will soon enough no longer exist. One might think that mobile TV could be the logical evolution of the medium, but as Jim Kutzner of PBS puts it, mobile TV will be a "disruptive technology," a much bigger change over legacy DTV than was DTV over analog television; the latter, after all, was just better pictures with the same "lean back" experience.
The new business proposition comes about due to the influence of the Internet, and many of the technical features of mobile TV - and ATSC Mobile Video in particular - have been developed with that in mind. IP encapsulation of video instead of MPEG transport means greater interoperability with Internet services. A possible back channel over cell-phone carrier services such as GPRS means full interactivity is possible. "Wiw-wiw-wiw" (pronounced "wee-wee-wee," for "what I want, when I want, where I want") and realtime polling become possible, and service protection (encryption) provides even more options. Location awareness brings the opportunity of services and advertisements pegged to geographical location.
With full-HD services increasingly supplied by other media, it’s growing more probable that over-the-air broadcasting will become a mobile service exclusively - something that MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte predicted almost 15 years ago. ATSC Mobile is limited currently to about 14.7 Mbps (out of the total 19.4) for the mobile data payload, but that limit could evolve, and an ATSC 2.0 is currently in the works, although not with that stated purpose.
But a viable business model is needed; as media pundit Shelly Palmer says, "there are only three business models: you pay, I pay, someone else pays," and this won’t change with new technologies, but the combination of these and the directions of cash flow certainly will. Local TV stations are being challenged to sustain their businesses, with the TV networks as content producers moving delivery to the Internet more and more. But this does not mean that local TV stations will become mere service providers for mobile TV transmissions. Interest is growing in the notion that a seamlessly-integrated combination of pushed (broadcast over ATSC) and pulled (uni-cast, e.g., over GPRS) services will satisfy the needs of many players in the value chain - including TV viewers - and that, after all is the Holy Grail. -agc