Preaching to the ATSC choir

One could feel electricity in the air as the crowded room overflowed Monday morning at the mobile TV meeting at the NAB convention. Broadcasters, all desperate for new revenue opportunities, filled the meeting room breathlessly wanting for a Moses figure to lead them from the darkness of shrinking revenues. “Mobile TV! We must have mobile TV!” some chanted.

During the next hour, attendees were mesmerized as evangelical-sounding proponents dangled promises of broadcaster-delivered mobile TV before the throng. “Follow me to the promised land of milk and money. There's gold in those megahertz if you'll just believe. Believe in ATSC, and paradise will be yours,” was the mantra. The fire-breathing preacher Elmer Gantry couldn't have delivered a more powerful sermon.

The problem is Elmer Gantry turned out to be a fake. And this wouldn't be the first time attendees have seen smoke and mirrors at NAB. Could broadcaster-delivered mobile TV be more self-serving to a select few than a financial future to many?

The hoopla for mobile TV at the NAB convention was no accident; it was arranged. The goal was to boost moods and minds that this industry will deliver video to handhelds and stand to make millions. The team's revival message was powerful. But is it real?

In early April, in these same Las Vegas halls, the CTIA held its convention and also looked at video for mobile. Guess what? Broadcasters weren't mentioned.

While broadcasters anxiously talk about mobile TV, no one is actually doing it. The proponents — ATSC, OMVC, NAB and XYZ — are all delivering stump speeches at rallies about broadcasters' future in mobile TV. Unfortunately, only the cell phone companies are actually delivering video to handhelds.

None of the new phones introduced at CTIA shows mention having OTA mobile TV capability. All of the phones introduced were focused on data services provided by cell phone companies. To these guys, data includes everything — voice, text, video and live television. Nowhere at CTIA did the cell phone companies open their arms to the broadcaster's version of video delivery.

And, why would they? If you own the phone, its technology, its operating system, the customer and the delivery infrastructure, why would you willingly give up any portion of that control or profit?

So what's missing from the CTIA's mobile picture? Of course, it's local news, weather and traffic.

But is a local TV station needed to provide local weather, traffic or news? We've already got the Weather Channel, AccuWeather and others that produce zoned forecasts and updates. There's and SigAlert, producing up-to-the-minute traffic conditions based on cell phone usage and traffic counting technology. And even local news can be obtained without a requirement for OTA delivery.

Get the picture? Broadcasters don't have a part in any of this delivery or sales infrastructure. What we do have is local content. While that's valuable, it's but a portion of what viewers want to see on their handsets.

Here's a comparison to the challenge we face: Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft own the game station market. What chance do broadcasters have to begin delivering video games to the PlayStation, Wii or Xbox? None!

Broadcasters are late to this competition, with unproven technology, having to compete against powerful worldwide interests, on a U.S.-only technology — all in an unfamiliar space.

I'm not saying we can't yet win a place at the mobile video table. However, Verizon's marketing phrase, “Can you hear me now?” could easily become “Can you see me now?” And that could happen without one second of OTA participation.

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