Last week President Barack Obama signed off on a new payroll tax package that included some surprises that could dramatically improve and change the landscape of mobile TV. The result could be fewer OTA television stations but faster wireless for tablets and smartphones. The new order gives the FCC authority to explore officially shifting the balance from OTA to mobile; the FCC can investigate and implement the new plan.
The concept is to take the OTA networks and squeeze them into a smaller bandwidth slice. This would result in more airwave space available for mobile, and once that is available, companies such as Verizon, Sprint and AT&T could bid on them.
Back in 2009 when television officially went from analog to digital, a large amount of the airwaves were suddenly open and available. But, fast forward to 2012, and much of that new space has already been taken by major carriers. And the need is only going to grow.
The broadcasters would need to decide if they want to give up their OTA space or not. There still is a huge need in this country, as more than 10 million households still do not have access to cable or satellite and rely on getting their content the old-fashioned way, over the air via antenna. The NAB will monitor the situation to make sure that no broadcaster is forced to give up its airwaves; it has to be a voluntary choice.
Some broadcasters do not care about OTA anymore, they make their profits being carried by cable and satellite, and the market for OTA transmission could be shrinking. But either way they have time to decide, as the bidding and shuffling would not happen until 2012 or even 2014. But, much like the switch from analog to digital, the writing may be on the wall for many operators, and the switch from OTA to cable may be coming sooner than later.
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