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Seems everyone wants to be in the mobile TV business and I am, frankly, surprised that it took this long for something to start happening within the NAB

NAB: TV Broadcasters-Too Late to the Party?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The National Association of Broadcasters recently held its yearly conference in Las Vegas. This year, the wireless industry was in attendance and exhibiting at the show, but the broadcasters seem to have their own ideas about mobile TV.


A few days ago, I wrote about the Harris/LG partnership for MPH, a technology designed to enable regular TV broadcasters to send out mobile TV signals as well as their standard HDTV signals using the same 6 MHz of spectrum. Now, nine of the largest U.S. broadcasters have joined forces to form what is being called the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a “group dedicated to the acceleration of mobile digital broadcast TV.”


This group of nine, including FOX, Sinclair and NBC, claims it represents more than 280 TV stations covering 95 million households in 49 of the top 50 markets. The NAB is an organization to be reckoned with. Not only has the TV industry held on to most of its spectrum, all of the TV stations in the land were given a second channel free of charge (6 MHz of spectrum) so they could develop HDTV while continuing their analog broadcasts. They are supposed to return one of the channels to the FCC at some point (“supposed to” being the operative phrase).


While first responders and commercial networks ended up with some of the 700-MHz TV spectrum, the TV stations enjoy the free use of the spectrum in spite of the fact that recent surveys show that only 20% of U.S. households receive their TV broadcasts over the air. The balance receives them from cable and satellite feeds. The NAB is truly an influential force in Washington.


A look at the nine players shows that only a few of them actually have content beyond local news. The rest own TV stations that rely on content from others, and they make their money on a percentage of the national advertising for the shows and on the local spots they run during syndicated shows. I wonder what the business model will be for these stations that don’t create content.


Seems everyone wants to be in the mobile TV business and I am, frankly, surprised that it took this long for something to start happening within the NAB. It appears as if it too, missed the fact that we are a mobile population more and more.


So, let’s see what we have now: AT&T and Verizon are going to provide a lot of TV channels and content on both their own networks and via Qualcomm’s MediaFLOcontent that is optimized for mobile devices and content that is identical, in many cases, to what is already being shown on regular TV. The DVB-H folks are also building out in the United States and, while they have not announced a network operator, I don’t see any slowdown in their efforts. Samsung announced a chip that will fit inside wireless phones and other mobile devices that will provide access, it says, to existing off-the-air HDTV stations. Sprint, with its partner MobiTV, is delivering mobile TV content over its existing network and, according to Intel and Sprint, the WiMAX systems in the process of being built will be able to provide mobile TV to their subscribers both at home and using mobile devices. And, of course, they are also planning to provide the full Internet experience to mobile devices so IPTV should work on these systems as well.


Boy, are we going to have a lot of mobile TV available to uson every type of device, for any type of purpose. The number of advertisements we will get to watch is going to be enormous as well, since for anyone make money out of all of this, someone will have to pay. But I guess the world has discovered the third screen for real.


What baffles me is that some of the companies that are already working with the wireless networks to provide content are part of this new NAB alliance. I guess they think they can win in all ways—provide content for others and use their own content for their own mobile products. But as I have said before, unless there is a business model for the network operators, I don’t think you are going to see many phones with off-the-air TV capabilities. Of course, this still leaves a lot of other devices, iPods, perhaps, and other yet-to-be-determined devices, and let’s not forget the screens in a lot of vans, SUVs and cars, many of which are equipped with DVD players and screens to keep the kids in the back occupied.


But with more than 230 million wireless devices in use, I would think that the wireless industry might have a leg up when it comes to distribution, but I do not believe that TV designed for broadcast to roof-mounted antennas is going to play well to mobile devices.


The TV broadcast industry is an interesting group with far more clout in congress than it should have. Some of its members are content providers as well as broadcasters, and some are broadcasters only (except perhaps with local news). There used to be three major networks but now there are a lot more, too many to count if you include cable and satellite systems. And how about content that millions of people want and watch each day that you cannot get over the air? CNN is one example, and I know there are hundreds more. Am I going to settle for local TV-only on my mobile device and go back into the olden days of TV, or am I going to insist that I get the same basic capabilities on my mobile phone as I do on my cable or satellite-connected TV at home?


All I can say is here we go again. Let’s see how many pieces of this pie we can slice, and how thin each slice will be.


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