Marriage of cell phone and television raises questions for broadcasters

With NEC's "3G" cellular telephone, you may be able to watch your favorite programs on your cell phone. The phone is equipped with a digital television tuner.

As if chief engineers, station managers and owners didn’t have enough technological upheaval to contend with thanks to the DTV conversion, another potential wrinkle in the television business has appeared that could one day leave most everyone at stations longing for the halcyon days of the DTV changeover.

That unexpected twist comes in the form of an impending marriage between the mobile phone and digital television. Consider these important developments this summer:

  • NEC showed a prototype of a third-generation cell phone with built-in DTV receiver and antenna.
  • Samsung Electronics released for sale in South Korea the MITs M400, a wireless handheld computer with built-in phone, TV, camera and camcorder.
  • Sanyo unveiled an experimental combo cell phone DTV set.
  • NTT DoCoMo announced it will establish a research center in Beijing to study fourth-generation wireless communications technology capable of moving information 260 times faster than third-generation gear, more than fast enough for high-quality video.
  • Sprint and RealNetworks launched an enhancement to Sprint PCS Vision service to allow customers to watch clips from FoxSports, the Weather Channel and other sources, on their cell phones for an additional $4.95 per month.
  • The Dallas Morning News published a 1,500-word article on the availability of pornographic video clips specifically for cell phone viewing and the expected explosion in such offerings.
  • SCM Microsystems introduced a PCMCIA digital TV receiver. It will let consumers in countries using the DVB-T standard receive digital terrestrial broadcast signals on PCMCIA devices.

These developments raise at least two important questions for broadcasters. First, is there a viable business model that will allow a station to profit from offering some localized service to cell phone TV viewers? Second, if there is a viable business model, will transmission be part of the station’s over-the-air DTV service as embodied in the NEC, Sanyo and Samsung products, or will it be a streamed video service akin to the Sprint and RealNetworks offering?

Whether or not stations can find a viable business model for such service, it’s clear that Sprint thinks there is a buck to be made in TV on a cell phone. As for over-the-air versus streaming, one thing over-the-air transmission has going for it is that it gives broadcasters complete control over content and distribution. Without a doubt the NEC, Sanyo and Samsung products were designed with their domestic transmission schemes in mind. However, there is no technological reason why an ATSC system developed to its fullest extent could not accommodate similar TV-broadcast-to-cell-phone service.

Those skeptical of the potential of TV on a cell phone to attract customers would do well to remember the important role adult films played in the early sales of consumer VCRs as they reconsider and search for the Dallas Morning News.

For more information, please visit:
NEC information:
Samsung information:
Sanyo information:
NTT DoCoMo information:
Sprint and RealNetworks information:
Dallas Morning News story:

Back to the top