Monetizing Mobile DTV

As final testing on the ATSC Mobile DTV system continues with a formal go-ahead in sight this summer—propelled by its rapid ascension to Candidate Standard status in late 2008—broadcasters are increasingly starting to weigh the possible benefits of potential new revenue streams that typically would not require expensive new content.

Stations will not be the only mobile DTV game in town, but unlike most current platforms currently underway, such as MobiTV and Media FLO, local broadcasters may have the option of simulcasting their valuable on-air content (pending clearance of potential copyright hurdles from content producers, including syndicators).

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, a broadcast alliance pushing for the rapid deployment of ATSC Mobile TV, recently announced the "first wave of stations committed" to launching mobile TV by late 2009. The initial rundown includes 54 stations in more than 20 markets, which OMVC said covers more than one-third of the nation's 114 million TV households. Committed stations include affiliates of the big four networks.

The first-wave list includes at least one broadcaster in seven of the top 10 markets, including the largest, New York City (WPXN-TV). Not included is Los Angeles (DMA no. 2). The smallest market on the early-rollout list is Toledo, Ohio (DMA no. 73) and the market with the most commercial commitments so far is Columbus, Ohio (DMA no. 32)—with its ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW affiliates on board.


Because the ATSC Mobile TV scheme (also known as ATSC M/H) is built on top of the existing digital broadcast system, start-up costs for streaming content to a wide array of new mobile devices (ranging from tiny smart phones to family SUV monitors) should be minimal, according to Anne Schelle, OMVC's executive director.

"Mobile DTV allows broadcasters to reach their viewers in more locations, at more times in the day, and in more formats, and this is expected to increase viewing time and create new revenue streams, thus translating into higher revenues for broadcasters," Schelle said. The coalition has ramped up a special group to explore business options, headed by Media General Senior Vice President Jim Conshafter.

Schelle said mobile DTV can support a variety of services — including free advertiser-supported TV and interactive services delivered in real-time — as well as maybe subscription services with file-based downloads for later playback. "The ATSC standard can also be used for transmission of new data broadcasting services. Broadcasters will now be the new 'new media'," she said. As for the delay DTV transition, Schelle is confident it will not greatly impact mobile TV's launch later this year. "Our plans announced are on track and not dependent on the analog shut-off."

While ATSC mobile proponents eye an array of new portable devices to capture broadcast content (notably in moving vehicles), millions of cell-phone users already have various video options on their current mobile equipment. Thus, to exploit mobile TV's growth, broadcasters may have to strike up new synergies outside the industry, according to Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "The most interesting questions to me revolve around the relationships between broadcasters — in which I include MediaFLO — and mobile [cell] operators."

"Advertisers increasingly value the ability to measure the performance of their ads," Golvin said, "and the ability to directly interact with the consumer. Mobile operators are a key to doing both because they hold the data about the customer, their networks are necessary to power the interactivity, and at least for the foreseeable future they control the distribution channel for the devices consumers use to watch mobile TV. It will be very interesting to see how broadcasters construct a model that benefits both themselves and mobile operators."

In a broader sense, says ATSC Executive Director Mark Richer, the commerce side of ATSC Mobile DTV "is set to provide a great opportunity for broadcasters to rebuild their 'direct-to-consumer' business by leveraging the wireless and local nature of their DTV transmissions." Consequently, several manufacturers have been busy assessing the potential needs for what eventually could include the majority of America's broadcast stations choosing to deploy some form of mobile service.

Learn more about mobile DTV at the NAB Show. The ATSC Mobile DTV Pavilion will showcase technologies that will enable broadcasters to provide digital television services directly to mobile and handheld devices.