Mobile-DTV Services Moving Closer to Reality

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The concept of mobile-TV services delivered via over-the-air DTV-broadcast signals continues to make gains within the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee). Jay Adrick, Harris Broadcast’s vice president of Strategic Business Development, discussed the specifics of what could be an ATSC standard by the end of the year at the SVG Transmission Forum, held in New York.

“Mobile DTV will be in a trial market—Washington, DC—this fall, as seven stations have signed up to provide bandwidth,” said Adrick. “We are also expecting cell-phone-carrier participation and a number of receiver types to be available.”

In the next couple of weeks, ATSC Mobile DTV (also known as ATSC a153) is expected to become a proposed standard, and it could become a full, accepted standard by September.

The advantage of the over-the-air delivery of mobile-TV services is that it does not take up valuable cellular bandwidth and is infinitely scalable in terms of users. Most important, it could mean as much as $2 billion in additional revenues for TV stations and also give the valuation of all TV stations a boost of upward of $9 billion. With 26 broadcast groups representing 900 TV stations already signed on for the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), expect mobile video to come to a portable device near you sooner rather than later.

“It’s also 100% backwards-compatible for existing spectrum and transmission services, and the average modulation power ratios are the same as conventional TV signals, so there is no additional FCC involvement needed,” explained Adrick.

Adrick gave an overview to an audience of more than 100 industry executives of a system that delivers a full multimedia experience to hand-held devices. Consumers will be able to turn on their devices and instantly access video content, as well as data services like a channel guide, traffic reports, headline news, sports scores, and wealth of other content. Nielsen and Rentrak are also involved to ensure audience measurement—an important step to assuage audience-erosion concerns.

“The big debate right now is whether it will be a simulcast, and that is something that needs to be worked out between the affiliate stations and the networks,” said Adrick. “NBC is encouraging a simulcast, while CBS has a different position. A number of stations today are also multicasting traffic and weather services, and those services are ripe for delivery to viewers on the move.

The Harris MPH platform for ATSC Mobile DTV consists of four field-upgradeable components: the Harris NetVX mobile encoding platform, Synchrony MNA synchronous mobile-networking adapter, Apex M2X exciter, and the Roundbox Server—Mobile DTV. At NAB, Harris took orders for the mobile-DTV components and will be shipping them within 30 days of the order.

With the use of MPEG4 h.264 compression, each TV station in a market can deliver up to eight separate IP streams in a 4.7-mbps transport stream. That stream would be packed within the same 19.39-mbps DTV signal that broadcasters across the nation are currently delivering.

The opportunity to deliver up to eight signals also opens up an opportunity for partnerships with cable networks and more. “Broadcasters don’t know how to handle subscription services, while the cable industry is very good at subscriber management and also has access to national content,” said Adrick. “There are opportunities here for groups that have traditionally been at odds to team up and build a business.”

For example, ABC TV stations could deliver not only a simulcast of the local TV-station signal, but also stream sister cable networks like the ESPN and Disney family of networks.

And the service will be about more than just video. Mobile-DTV widgets developed by Roundbox, a leading provider of mobile-broadcast software, are an example of ways to port Internet content and other data onto mobile devices. “The mobile-DTV widgets are software attachments on top of the channel-guide system that allow users to drill down into a tool bar for a list of news stories, photos, and more details,” said Adrick. “Much of the content already resides on [the TV station or network] Website, and this brings that content to the mobile platform.”

Real-world tests of MPH are also under way. Two TV stations in Seattle will begin tests later this month, and WRAL Raleigh, NC, is delivering mobile DTV to flat-panel displays on local buses, giving riders a chance to catch their favorite shows while giving WRAL a chance to monetize content with advertisements placed around the programming window.

Those tests will prove out both business models and technical specs. The system is robust enough to overcome multipath interference and can also be received at speeds above 175 miles per hour, making it ideal for NASCAR drivers who are bored after completing their 1,000th left-hand turn.

“This service could be a loss-leader that gets consumers hooked on digital television,” added Adrick.

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