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Mobile Offers Opportunities

Nov 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Pat Mullen, VP and general manager of Fox’s TV stations in Chicago, owns something even cooler than an iPhone.
While watching his daughter play softball a few weekends ago, he whipped out a new phone outfitted to receive the mobile digital signal the Fox and Ion Media Networks stations are testing in the Windy City to watch the exciting ending of a Chicago Bears football game. All the other dads gathered around to see the game and wanted to know when they could get such a phone.
With television stations transmitting in digital in preparation for the switchover from analog in February, broadcasters are looking to use their spectrum to support new businesses. Generating new revenue streams is especially important for stations because of the deep slump in the local TV ad market.
This incarnation of mobile video is emerging as a competitor to existing mobile TV services such as Sprint TV, MobiTV and Verizon’s V Cast. The heat surrounding Apple’s iPhone hasn’t spurred a revolution in the industry, which has struggled to achieve wider adoption by consumers.
Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a group of 20 broadcast companies that own 450 TV stations, said the demonstration in Chicago is one more step toward establishing a standard for mobile television and putting the devices into consumers’ hands.
The standard is expected to be ratified in June. Consumer testing is set to begin early next year.
Fox has been simulcasting its programming on a mobile digital signal for about a year, and Mr. Mullen said he’s convinced the technology works. A clear picture can be received by devices in a car barreling down the highway, going through tunnels and far out in the suburbs.
“This is something we can go forward with,” Mr. Mullen said.
The trick, of course, is developing a business model, he said. All the options are on the table. The mobile channels could be a simulcast of the broadcast channel, or they could have different commercials. Alternatively, some sort of subscription plan could be considered.
With the system passing its technical trial, consumer testing will be conducted to find out how to exploit demand, he said.
Ion Media has been beaming a mobile signal in Chicago since August. Ion’s Denver station was able to add a mobile signal to its digital broadcast in less than four hours. The equipment needed cost less than $250,000.
“The cost of implementing is very attractive to broadcasters,” said Brett Jenkins, director of technology strategy and development at Ion.
Fox and Ion demonstrate two different digital broadcast scenarios. Fox broadcasts in HD and still has enough bandwidth for two more digital mobile channels on its spectrum. Ion multicasts four different digital program streams in standard definition, and also has room for two mobile streams.
Unlike analog broadcast, digital broadcast signals can’t be received by devices on the move, hence the need for a separate digital signal. And unlike video based on cell technology, digital mobile video can be received by an unlimited number of viewers simultaneously.
Ms. Schelle said the industry is coalescing around a format called MPH, originally developed by Harris and LG. With no format wars, device makers would be expected to quickly jump into the market.
Adoption could be quick because the average cell phone is replaced every 18 months, she said.
In addition to cell phone and personal digital assistant type devices, manufacturers also are developing viewers for use in cars and plug-ins that would bring pictures to laptop computers, video-game players and GPS devices.
Ms. Schelle said that while it once was thought mobile video consumers would want short clips created specifically for small-screen, hand-held devices, research has shown that when they’re on the go, they want to watch the same things they like to watch in their living room.
When consumers tested national video services, she said, the No. 1 thing viewers said was missing was local content such as news, weather and sports.
“As a broadcaster, that’s good news for us,” Mr. Jenkins said. “It’s another option for broadcasters to provide a service for the public.”
Based on anecdotal experience, Mr. Mullen said, he expects mobile video to take off.
“Five years down the road, breaking news is gong to occur and everyone is going to be pulling out their cell phones to watch it live,” he said.

17 Comments

  1. The article doesn’t say if the captioning, used by thousands of deaf people and others who rely on text, is also passed along onto the mobile hand held device. Has anyone thought of this?
    Why should a new technology and means of distribution leave out the accessibility mode that millions rely on when it was on their “fixed box” TV set at home….
    Does anyone know if the passed through tv program included the captioning it had originally?

  2. iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

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  5. Is this possible??
    damn! Bad Ass video!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXZglaTfrMY
    Hugh Pattenson strataccdp@aol.com

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