Who has time to sit on the couch and watch TV anymore? In the last 10
years, broadcasters have lost 25 percent of their audience. So to win
back some viewers, the industry has a plan to grab their attention while
they are on the move.
Beginning in April, eight television stations in Washington, D.C., will broadcast a signal for a new class of devices that can show programming, even in a car at high speed. In all, 30 stations in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington have installed the necessary equipment, at a cost of $75,000 to $150,000.
Younger generations want programming on the go,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “To access TV on a cellphone, on a laptop or in the car is a game changer for local broadcasters. It will provide a renaissance for over-the-air broadcast TV.”
If enough people watch using the mobile TV technology, known, for lack of a more marketable name, as “ATSC Mobile DTV Standard,” local stations will be able to charge more for commercials and increase their revenue.
Getting a signal on a portable TV was not always a challenge. When analog television was the nation’s standard, a small set could pick up a signal at the ballpark, at the beach or in the car, though viewers often put up with a fuzzy, ghost-filled image.
But digital TV, the standard that went into effect last year, was developed for stationary televisions.
The mobile devices must catch a special signal, a slice of the broadcast frequency, and software processes it to display a clear picture on the go.
The technology will be used on new portable televisions with up to
10-inch screens, and smartphones and laptops with special adapters will
also receive the signals. The devices must be within about 60 miles of a
broadcast tower for a picture as clear as the television at home.
The first devices will become available in April. They include a $249
TV-DVD player from LG; a $120 device the size of a cigarette box from
Valups, a Korean set-top box maker, that retransmits a mobile signal to
an iPhone, iPod
or BlackBerry over Wi-Fi; PC dongles and set-top boxes for automobiles
from iMovee; and a $149 iPhone/iPod mobile TV cradle from Cydle.
Once the signals are switched on and the devices gain in popularity,
broadcasters may add specialty channels like sports and weather,
offering more revenue opportunities.
The Mobile DTV standard also allows for two-way communication. When
viewing an ad, a viewer may push a button to see more information or
have it sent by e-mail. The system can also be used for voting, polling
and audience measurement.
Mobile TV devices with GPS function could also feed location-specific
ads so that, for example, an ad for a restaurant would appear only to
If Mobile DTV proves popular, it could threaten FLO TV, a subscription service developed by Qualcomm that offers programming from the four major commercial broadcast networks and Comedy Central, ESPN
and others. To watch, subscribers must buy a $200 receiver or a
compatible smartphone and pay $150 for a year’s subscription, or $200
for two years.
“Free mobile digital TV will be devastating to what is already a very
small market for FLO TV,” said Richard Doherty, an analyst with the
But FLO TV does not see it that way. It
expects to sell its services as a premium add-on, much the way that
consumers watch free TV and pay for cable services.
be a ‘Best of FLO TV Channel’ that we’d sell bundled with free digital
channels,” said Alice Kim, the company’s senior vice president of
Because FLO is aimed at the smartphone market, the
broadcasters behind the mobile DTV effort are eager to see their service
developed for cellphones, too. Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s
largest makers of cellphones, is testing mobile TV in a modified
Moment cellphone model to learn if the technology is a good business
opportunity for wireless carriers.
“People don’t want to carry a
separate video player,” said John Godfrey, vice president for
government and public affairs at Samsung Electronics. “A mobile phone
is the one essential device for consumers.”
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