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True mobile TV will be coming to your phone and car in 2009, a coalition of rivals announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Thursday.
The new Mobile DTV standard lets local TV broadcasters load up one of their digital subchannels with mobile-friendly programming and data. Mobile TV will be beaming out of your local tower by the end of 2009, said Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition.
"You've got great picture quality, multiple stations broadcasting live simulcast services and multiple devices," Schelle said. "And you're going to see market implementation in 2009."
Here at CES, eight local Las Vegas channels are doing sample broadcasts, along with two mobile-only channels. Popular ABC, NBC, CW, Fox and PBS programs have all gone mobile, along with exclusive channels devoted to music videos and traffic information.
The programs are coming in on a mobile phone from LG that looks a lot like Verizon Wireless's existing Voyager, and a Kenwood in-car player. LG also has an MP3 player with a 3-inch LCD screen, a 7-inch portable DVD player, and a USB receiver for PCs ready to go, said John Taylor, senior vice president at LG Electronics USA. Visteon and Delphi are also making car-compatible Mobile DTV devices. Integrating Mobile DTV into handhelds and screens costs "in the tens of dollars" per unit, Taylor said.
Keep an eye on those car gadgets. While many have mocked TV on phones, backseat TVs in cars are a perfect place to watch long-form TV content, Avedis Menechian, chief technical officer and chief marketing officer of Alcatel-Lucent Services, told us on Monday.
The Mobile DTV standard results from an unusual level of cooperation between LG and Samsung, two Korean TV giants who are usually bitter rivals. They announced competing TV systems at last year's CES, but then buried the hatchet in May to try to speed up the process of getting a system on the market.
"LG and Samsung are already world-class in digital TV and mobile communications, LG president and chief technical officer Woo Paik said at the time. "Through this collaboration, we also have an opportunity to lead the North American mobile DTV market."
Local broadcasters are enthusiastic about mobile DTV, said Saul Shapiro, president of the Metropolitan TV Alliance, an association of 11 broadcasters in the New York City area. Digital television gave each station several subchannels â€“ you see them on your TV as 4.1, 4.2, 4.3 and such â€“ but stations haven't settled on how to best use those. Using a subchannel for mobile opens up new revenue opportunities for local broadcasters rather than cannibalizing existing viewing time, Shapiro said.
"Mobile opens up a whole new audience, this huge audience of people doing different things at different times in different places," Shapiro said. "If you're watching mobile television, it's probably not taking time away from your living-room, high-definition program watching," he said.
ION Media Networks, an owner of 60 TV stations that's right now best known for showing a lot of reruns of "Boston Legal" on their stations, and NBC Universal are pushing Mobile DTV hard, Shapiro said. The system costs between $50,000 and $150,000 for a local station to implement, said Glenn Reitmeier, vice president of technology for NBC Universal.
The Mobile DTV standard provides for an IP stream tunneled into a broadcast channel, Reitmeier said. That IP stream will primarily carry MPEG-4 AVC video at 240x416 resolution with HE-AAC audio. Broadcasters can choose various tradeoffs between data rate and error correction based on their local terrain and their transmitters' power, Reitmeier said.
Mobile DTV channels can also hold data, including downloading files through the TV link. "We're very excited about that," Reitmeier said. "There's been a discussion of everything from downloading of on-demand entertainment content to using the data channels for traffic alerts, emergency messaging, or news and sports headlines."
On the device side, except for the "low VHF channels" (channels 2 to 6, which many broadcasters are leaving anyway), "the reception will be superb with a six-inch whip antenna or smaller," Taylor said. MediaFLO phones, which receive their broadcasts on UHF channel 55 â€“ right in the Mobile DTV range â€“ started out with long, extendable antennas but have since evolved into having invisible, internal antennas.
Mobile DTV isn't the first mobile digital TV system in the US. Qualcomm's MediaFLO has been in several dozen cities for more than two years now with limited success, appearing in several Verizon and AT&T phones. They're going nationwide, and moving into cars this year. A third company, ICO, is running a satellite TV system for cars. They launched their satellite in April, and they're doing live demos here at CES.
But you don't have to see this as a head-to-head war. Matt Milne, MediaFLO USA's senior vice president of marketing, sees room for both the nationwide, subscription-based MediaFLO and individual local broadcasters in the mobile TV world. MediaFLO right now offers consistent programming nationwide, as opposed to Mobile DTV's different channels in every city. Think of the two systems as like cable and broadcast TV, in terms of programming.
While Mobile DTV's demo is showing major network programs like "Ugly Betty," "30 Rock" and "The O'Reilly Factor", the system's sweet spot may be in much more local programming, Schelle said.
"The ability to provide access to live local content is clearly missing in today's mobile video offering," she said.
If Mobile DTV starts providing nationwide network shows, MediaFLO can easily adapt with different content, Milne said. "If consumers are able to get redundant content from us versus them, there's no reason to roll over each other," Milne said.
Consumers will be best served by single devices that can hit multiple TV standards, Milne said. Taylor said he agrees, and he said LG is working on FLO/Mobile DTV combo gadgets.
"You can have ATSC M/H [the technical name for Mobile DTV] and MediaFLO in one device," Taylor said. "We've had interesting and productive discussions with Qualcomm and the carrier partners about this."
Mobile DTV stations will start going online in 2009, Schelle said. "Our goal is to have early devices by the end of 2009. I think you're looking at 2010 for a larger array of devices on retail shelves," she said.
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