Gray Television launches mobile DTV trial in Omaha

WOWT, the Gray Television-owned NBC affiliate in Omaha, NE, July 24 became the broadcast group’s first station to launch a trial of mobile DTV and begin transmitting a signal to viewers in the station’s coverage area.

The station, together with Jim Ocon, Gray Television VP of technology, and the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) are working on the pilot test, making the station one of the few in the country using the technology.

While the station is blanketing its coverage area with the mobile DTV signal, few prototype receivers exist — so few, in fact, that station president and general manager and Gray regional VP Charlie Peterson had to borrow a cell phone with a built-in mobile DTV tuner to see the station’s signal. After viewing the trial, she described the quality of the transmission as “unbelievable.”

A month and a half after the launch, prototype receivers remain scarce, but that hasn’t stopped viewers from expressing strong interest in receiving television on the go, Ocon said. Viewers who have learned of the trial are expressing interest in receiving mobile DTV once receivers become available, he said.

One viewer posting on the station Web site, for example, said, “Oh my goodness, I can’t wait until this is available to the public.”

Currently, WOWT is simulcasting its main program channel on the new mobile DTV channel; however, the station concurrently is putting in place the infrastructure necessary to deliver a separate mobile DTV channel with traffic information. The new traffic channel will serve as a test bed for Gray, which plans to roll out mobile DTV service in other markets, Ocon said.

“We’ve identified a handful of stations to adopt mobile DTV by the end of the year and starting in the first quarter of 2010,” Ocon said. These stations include WKYT in Lexington, KY; KAKE in Wichita, KS; WIBW in Topeka, KS; and KOLN in Lincoln, NE; he said.

Gray Television’s Omaha mobile DTV trial began four days before the high-profile showcase of mobile DTV technology to lawmakers in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The OMVC billed that showcase as a “sneak peek” at mobile DTV consumer devices and provided a consumer test bed for mobile content and services. Broadcast participants included FOX Television Stations’ WDCA-DT, Gannett Broadcasting’s WUSA-TV, ION Media Networks’ WPXW-DT, NBC Universal’s WRC-DT, PBS’ WHUT-DT, MHz Networks’ WNVT-DT, and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s WNUV-DT.

In Omaha, preparation for the WOWT mobile DTV trial required installation of a rack full of Harris components that Ocon described as “plug and play” and modification of the station’s exciter, all of which took less than half of a day to complete. WOWT launched the trial using its existing antenna. “Our mobile signal is working very well with our horizontal antenna on Channel 22,” he said. However, the station is in the process of an antenna upgrade from ERI and “having a CP (antenna) installed with its pattern toward the highways,” he said.

Commenting on the technology and the Omaha trial, Ocon predicted a bright future. Not only does mobile DTV carry on in the broadcast tradition of being free, but it also is “like having a television in your pocket,” he said.

Beyond entertainment, mobile DTV promises to be an invaluable resource during severe weather, he added. “From an emergency alert perspective, I think it's going to be a must," Ocon said. “Mobile DTV will provide a quick and easy way for viewers to receive emergency information. I think this technology is going to save lives."

Editor’s note: Jim Ocon discusses the WOWT mobile DTV trial in this edition’s Sound Off podcast.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.