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OMVC Defines Mobile DTV's Role in the Communications Ecosystem

Broadcasters are concerned that if the FCC reallocates 120 MHz of the UHF TV spectrum as recommended by the National Broadband Plan (NBP), there won't be sufficient spectrum for multicast and mobile DTV services. In a press release [PDF] on Mobile DTV's role in the U.S. communications ecosystem, instead of focusing on the potential loss of spectrum, the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) emphasized the importance of broadcasting and focused on statements in the NBP recognizing the public interest service provided by local broadcasters and the spectral efficiency of mobile DTV (MDTV) broadcasting in delivering various types of content.

The OMVC position is supported by a 19-page white paper [PDF] authored by Danielle Levitas, Group Vice President of IDC's Consumer, Broadband and Digital Marketplace team. "Mobile DTV is a cultural and technical extension of digital over-the-air broadcasting and is a spectrum-efficient technology to deliver hugely popular content," White wrote. "But more than this, Mobile DTV allows consumers to also receive local channels, programming, and advertising, as well as relevant local and national news, emergency information, weather, and other alerts. Like over-the-air broadcasting, Mobile DTV easily makes possible a one to many broadcast that instantaneously can reach millions of viewers,"

Levitas outlined IDC's vision of the future of mobile DTV: "We see Mobile DTV starting as a free service, delivering broadcast channels to viewers on the go. But the upside potential is even more interesting, because the technology can support subscription services to premium channels, a la carte access to other media, cached recording, localized and targeted advertising, and more—especially when Mobile DTV is paired with great mobile devices like netbooks and in-car entertainment systems,"

Levitas' IDC white paper, "Assessing the Mobile DTV Opportunity and Its Role in the United States' Communications Ecosystem" has some interesting observations on broadcasting and MDTV. With all of the talk of the demise of local broadcasting with cable and the Internet, you may be surprised to learn that 97 percent of the top 100 broadcasts of the 2008/2009 season originated from broadcast networks, not cable networks, as reported by Nielsen. A Gallup poll in December 2008 showed local TV news remains the most popular source of news, with more than half the Americans surveyed saying they tuned into local news broadcasts daily, beating out every other media by at least 11 points. A study done this month by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that on a typical day, 78 percent of Americans surveyed get their news from a local TV station.

The white paper notes that surveys show netbooks are the most popular choice for MDTV viewing, with over 70 percent of the respondents finding MDTV on netbooks appealing. Smartphones were second, with over 65 percent of the respondents finding that platform appealing. The most appealing content was breaking news, followed by emergency reports, weather, and local/regional news.

The interaction between broadcast mobile DTV, consumers and other communications providers is discussed in the report. It also discusses some of the challenges and opportunities for broadcast MDTV. The first and greatest challenge is for broadcasters to roll out MDTV broadcasts soon enough to attract broad participation from OEMs and retailers—OEMs cannot justify a product launch that is not nationwide. The second element is audience measurement, which is important to attract advertisers. Having MDTV available in cell phones and smartphones available through wireless carriers or other operators is the third element. The last major challenge is consumer education. The white paper explains, "Consumers will need to know the state of available broadcasts in their local market (or other markets they regularly travel to), the device types they can use to view Mobile DTV, and if there are fees for various types of Mobile DTV services."

I would add another element. Stations will need to ensure their coverage is reliable. As interest in MDTV grows, consumers will expect it to work where their cellphone works. This may require replacing antennas and increasing transmitter power to allow elliptical or circular polarization and adding on-channel repeaters or a distributed transmission system to improve coverage in urban canyons, transportation centers, office buildings and in terrain shielded areas. We have a lot of work to do!

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.