To help broadcasters tune up their mobile TV deployment plans, Jim Ocon — vice president of technology at Gray Television, whose NBC affiliate in Omaha, NE, WOWT, launched one of the first North American mobile TV channels in July 2009 — offers this checklist of questions broadcasters need to answer before making the mobile TV plunge.
- RF: VHF or UHF? "It seems that UHF is better [for mobile TV] because receiving devices have a very short antenna," says Ocon. (The reason is that UHF signals have shorter wavelengths than VHF signals.) While VHF will work for mobile TV — Gray has both [UHF and VHF digital channels] — UHF is a clear winner for mobile with today's technology." Ocon adds that smart antenna design could change this picture.
- Bandwidth: Where is the available channel space? "Mobile takes a quarter of the bandwidth required for on-air operation," Ocon explains. "If you take a typical broadcast channel of 19.3Mb, 12Mb is [used for] HD, 3Mb for normal definition. Mobile requires about 4.6Mb." He advises broadcasters, "Look at the channel that's not getting much revenue and swap it out for mobile."
- Antenna: Circular or polarized? "Given the opportunity, you may want to use a transmitting antenna that's more optimized for mobile," Ocon says.
- Preparation: Is your budget and deployment plan in place? "It costs about $100,000 and half a day's worth of work to enable the mobile transmitter and provide a service guide," advises Ocon, adding, "It's very plug and play, very minor modifications. You're adding the signal to your [existing] transmission stream, it won't disrupt operations." Ocon's rule of thumb is that the cost of adding mobile TV broadcasts is about 2 percent, or less, of the cost of installing a new TV station, and the cost will almost certainly drop. And remember, "This is new eyeballs."
- Outreach: Are viewers ready, able and interested in tuning in? Ultimately, what will make or break mobile TV isn't transmission equipment, as important as that is. It's whether or not there's an audience, stresses Ocon. "Educating viewers is key right now. Most people think it's [mobile TV] a download app."
Next, "Make sure your users get the right kind of devices," Ocon advises. Be proactive — even to the length of offering some free or low-cost devices. Don't rely on cell phone carriers to make devices available.
Last but not least, Ocon reminds broadcasters, "Look at your content. Make sure you have content that would be compelling on the go."