Mobile DTV Services Poised to Dominate NAB Mindshare

By Carl Lindemann

With the economy casting a long, dark shadow over this year’s NAB Show, mobile DTV should be a bright spot for broadcasters’ seeking growth and opportunity. “We’re at the beginning of a new era where we reach the consumer where they are rather than have them go somewhere to access content,” says Ardell Hill, president, broadcast services, Media General Broadcast. “I believe this is the opportunity that makes our future clear. This gives us the tools to reconnect with the Twitter and Facebook generation that has left us.”

Leading the discussion of mobile DTV, as broadcasting ATSC-compatible mobile video technology has come to be called, will be the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), an alliance of U.S. commercial and public broadcasters committed to the development of mobile digital television. It will have a booth in Central Hall and will host a breakfast session on Monday, April 20.

Emceed by Fox Business News Anchor Liz Claman, the breakfast will feature a panel of top television executives offering the latest information about broadcaster and device manufacturer efforts to accelerate mobile DTV deployment.

According to OMVC, more than 65 stations in more than 25 markets, covering more than 35 percent of U.S. television households, are already committed to delivering mobile DTV services this year.

The ATSC Mobile DTV Pavilion in the Content Central area of the exhibit hall will showcase technologies that will enable broadcasters to provide quality digital television services directly to mobile and handheld devices.

Exhibitors include Axcera; Pixtree; DTV Innovations; ETRI; Expway; Zenith/LG; Linear Acoustic; Rohde & Schwarz; RRD USA; Sarnoff Corp.; Sencore; Sinclair Broadcast Group; and Triveni Digital.

The NAB will also give broadcasters an opportunity to investigate the larger world of mobile video and see what they are up against.

The Mobile Entertainment Summit on Tuesday, April 22, will present ways to capitalize on mobile trends to expand audience reach and generate new forms of revenue. Co-produced by NAB and iHollywood Forum, the conference will highlight important developments in mobile entertainment, including mobile video, devices, advertising and marketing, music, mobile search engines and building social networks.

In addition to having a booth on the show floor, the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF), a group representing global mobile entertainment providers, will also host a panel in the Content Theater. MEF’s mission is to build awareness, create business development opportunities and facilitate the development of commercial guidelines for the mobile entertainment industry.

The Super Session “Mobile Entertainment To Go,” sponsored by RipCode, will feature an executive panel addressing revenue and investment opportunities as well as how various industries” broadcast, wireless, cable and satellite” will affect mobile networks of the future.

All told, according to NAB, mobile video technologies, content and applications are expected to be on display by more than 300 exhibitors, including Harris Corp., AT&T, Verizon Wireless, mmi Broadcasting, V4x, MOBICLIP, TVU Networks, TeamCast and Qualcomm/MediaFLO.

According to proponents of mobile DTV, 2009 will be the year that the service becomes reality.

“Last year we were talking basics, now we’re talking implementation” says Jay Adrick, Harris’ vice president, broadcast technology. “We’re far beyond the rough draft and have been into fine-tuning since it was elevated to candidate status last November.

Most of the stations that have committed to broadcasting the service should be on the air before the holiday shopping season, he says. “This will spur a lot of activity.”

Harris and other broadcast technology vendors will be showing products that broadcasters need to offer the service” the complete mobile DTV infrastructure.

Meanwhile, consumer electronics manufacturers will demonstrate a wide array of offerings of cell phones another other portable devices capable to receiving the mobile DTV signals.

“We can expect to see the first devices available for early adopters in the coming holiday shopping season, and an acceleration of mainstream acceptance in 2010 with significant retail shelf space devoted to it,” says Open Mobile Video Coalition Executive Director Anne Schelle.

According to Schelle, industry excitement over mobile DTV is based on two easy-to-understand realities.

First, research indicates that mobile has the potential of generating more than $2 million in annual ad revenue. What’s more, subscription-based business models suggest the revenue could go as high as $5 billion a year.

The second reality is the relatively low cost of entry, between $75,000 and $150,000 per station.

There are, of course, skeptics.

“I’m interested to see what the business is here,” says Dave Converse, vice president and director of engineering for ABC’s O&Os.

“Someone needs to help me with my education on this. The overall ad pie is only so big and it isn’t growing. I don’t know of any CEO saying ‘Here’s a new way to spend ad dollars.’ That means the pieces of the pie get smaller with more people nibbling.”

Schelle claims that mobile DTV will not cannibalize terrestrial viewership, but instead will add some 10 percent to existing audiences. Others suggest that mobile will lead to an overall reconfiguration of the media landscape, with broadcasters marking out new, protected turf.

“This taps into what’s unique to broadcast” the one-to-many model that only we can do,” says Sterling Davis, vice president of engineering for Cox Broadcasting. “Satellite, telcos, cable and the Internet can’t touch this. It’s something that is going to catch on. It will start slow, but then take off.”

Out of the box, mobile DTV will offer simulcasts of the regular over-the-air service. But that’s just a start, broadcasters say.

“Audio, video and data channels are all available. This can be free to air or by subscription depending on the business model at any given station. To simulcast your main channel is pretty simple, a starter. Stations will be trying out lots of things, and there’s no way to tell how this is going to come out,” says Davis.

One uneasy possibility for some broadcasters is that mobile DTV could prove to be a competitor to HD radio, a suggestion that Davis discounts.

“It’s like saying that consumers have to choose between buying refrigerators or cars. One has a vehicle tie-in, the other doesn’t. These are two different services,” Davis said.

Others aren’t so sure. Audio-only concepts could leverage local TV news assets to create a formidable competitor to radio’s news/talk formats. Music, too, could find a new home on mobile DTV services.

“Audio-only services are one of the many capabilities offered in the ATSC mobile DTV solution. We intend to leverage all of the feature sets of that technology,” says Mark Aiken, Sinclair’s director of advanced technology.

Aiken, who also serves as chair of the ATSC’s S4 group developing the standard, sees NAB 2009 as making manifest a longstanding vision.

Sinclair has made a substantial investment in it. “We recognized the need [for a mobile platform] early on,” he says. “The tech companies heard us and have been working on it ever since. Now, we’ve made a corporate-wide commitment to make this happen. We want to be sure that mobile prospers, and that the entire broadcast industry is engaged.

“Being the front-runner is one thing. But if you’re the only one running, it isn’t much of a race.”

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