WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.: Call it the little network that will. ION Media Networks launched its promised mobile DTV service in New York and Washington. The service was launched on WPXN-TV, ION’s O&O in New York, along side the network’s HD signal and two multicast diginets. ION serves the Washington, D.C. market via WPXW-TV based in Manassas, Va.; and its satellite, WWPX-TV in Martinsburg, W.V.
The service marks the for-real commercial debut of mobile digital TV broadcasting in the United States, though for whom is unclear. Various prototype receivers were bandied at April’s NAB trade show in Las Vegas. Kenwood showed a model for vehicles. Dell enabled a notebook. LG and Samsung are building reception into handset models. None appear to be readily available. A Web search for mobile DTV receivers yields the type of USB antennas good for tuning regular digital transmission in on a laptop.
ION has been on the forefront of the mobile DTV effort, launched around two years ago when it became apparent that HDTV would not pay for itself. ION is a charter member of the Open Mobile Video Coalition of broadcasters that worked on mobile DTV, and its chief, Brandon Burgess, heads up the group. The technology for transmitting a broadcast signals that was decodable on the move was fast-tracked and field tested in several markets last year. By January, 63 stations involved with the coalition committed to launching mobile DTV throughout 2009. (See “Mobile DTV to Launch in 22 Markets.”)
ION has around 60 stations across nearly as many markets—substantial coverage, but its ratings remain modest. It’s averaging around a 0.5 in prime time compared to around a 7.0 for CBS, for example. The network has been aggressively repositioning from its former identity as infomercial-heavy Pax to a general entertainment brand. The rotation includes several off-network dramas, with original programming planned for later this year. ION started transmitting its flagship net in HD last February, with plans to do likewise for the diginets—Qubo and ION Life—some time this year.
The company filed for bankruptcy last month, having first reached a restructuring deal with its main investors. The move wiped out $2.7 billion in debt for ION and recapitalized it to the tune of $150 million.
— Deborah D. McAdams
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