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McAdams On: Marketing Mobile DTV

Let’s hope we hear about mobile DTV as much as we heard about Jay moving to prime time. The Advanced Television Systems Committee last night approved the standard for transmitting mobile DTV over the air. The effort was nearly two-and-a-half years in the making, giving Verizon a significant head-start with VCast.

The wireless carrier doesn’t break out its VCast subscriber numbers, but with nearly 88 million cellular subscribers, it’s safe to bet there’s a few million. MobiTV, which won an Emmy for its mobile TV technology, is carried by AT&T and Sprint. It surpassed 6 million subscribers worldwide in February.

The incumbent carriers mean some stiff competition for broadcasters, who have their own advantages.

One is that Verizon led with data; VCast initially was launched on the carrier’s data network and video forever buffered on the user end. Subscribers fled. It relaunched on MediaFLO, a far more reliable distribution technology. Now MediaFLO’s parent, Qualcomm, is making handsets specifically to receive MediaFLO content--FLO TV.

All of these services cost money. All are subscriber based. The great hope of mobile broadcast DTV is that it will be ad-supported and therefore free. This could work, except it will take lots of loud barking!

Mobile broadcast receivers are expected to show up at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but they should be in the market now. Broadcasters should be slathering manufacturers with Dom and filet mignon to get receivers to market. They should comp premium air-time to push them for the holiday season. They should be pushing free mobile DTV incessantly, the way NBC let every living being on the planet know that Jay Leno would appear in prime time this season.

There should not be one single life-form in the known universe who remains unaware that mobile television can be had for free. Because free means squat anymore without some form of cache attached. This is the United States of Marketing. Even the best ideas sink without sufficient marketing. Remember terrestrial DTV, with the best-quality, high-definition video available of any system--for free? Yeah, that went over big, didn’t it. Who knew? A handful of geeks and techies, that’s who.

Mobile DTV could work. It could very well be the revenue stream that saves the broadcast television industry--if people know about it. Having a couple of anchors push the service in a few newscasts is not enough. Billboards. Air time. Sponsored extreme athletes. Pink as a spokeswoman. The ATSC M/H comet. Ads at bus stops, in local neighborhood rags, on the radio, in the air from smoke-trailing biplanes.

Just this once, I hope this industry uses the power of its own platform to predicate its success rather than the petard-hoisting that was terrestrial DTV. It’s OK to take a lesson from HBO. C’mon. Feel the noise.