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Many broadcasters have viewed the development of mobile TV with a combination of interest and caution. Early deployments, large-scale trials and industry events such as the IBC Mobile Zone have hinted at the potential of mobile TV. However, many broadcasters aren't yet convinced.

Broadcast mobile TV is certainly of interest to European broadcasters, despite the relatively slow take-up seen to date. Broadcasters are very aware that the opportunity to open up content delivery to mobile devices is a powerful tool in the constant battle to retain viewers and drive revenues through either subscription- or advertising-based business models. However, many are unsure how much priority to place on this delivery medium. (See Figure 1.)

This uncertainty is not fundamentally because of technology concerns. Today, the DVB-H standard is the clear choice, and the close similarity to the terrestrial DVB-T standard enables a very efficient reuse of architectures and networks. (See Figure 2 below.) Moreover, a series of launches and technology trials have proven the capabilities of a DVB-H-based transmission network. Despite this, there remains uncertainty over the viable business models and public interest levels. (See Figure 3 below.)

Mobile network operators

One major issue is that delivering TV to the mobile adds a formidable new player in the shape of mobile network operators (MNOs). The cellular operators hold the keys to the end viewers because of their existing connection and billing relationships with their customers.

Every mobile phone connected to the network is a two-way channel, and that is something that's been nirvana for broadcasters. It enables MNOs to provide personalized content and advertising to drive revenues, and cellular operators are developing products and services in order to hit home this advantage.

Nonetheless, looking at the bigger picture, the traditional broadcast network operators have key strengths of their own, rooted in their existing infrastructure and relationships with content owners and aggregators. This gives them an advantage over the mobile phone operators who today have neither the technology nor the content to make broadcast mobile TV truly commercially successful.

Broadcasters also have another advantage through their work with an understanding of conditional-access solutions. Mobile TV will succeed or fail through the quality of the experience for the user. And we can see from other areas of the video content delivery market that content providers are protective of their high-quality offering, going so far as to specify a mandatory baseline level of security.

Different screen sizes

On the technical side, there are a number of key areas that broadcasters need to address in order to make mobile TV a success. One of the issues that is currently a hot topic is how to address variations in screen size and type.

There is a school of thought regarding content, which states that broadcasters should simulcast existing broadcast content for DVB-H (with automatic reformatting to the resolution and screen refresh rate of mobile display devices). This is driven by research by Informa, which has shown that in order to help with the early adoption of this “third screen” by users, familiarity with the broadcast content is critical.

This simulcast methodology is beneficial in a number of areas, including cross-platform familiarity for users. The technology that performs this mobile TV encoding is now widely available, and the accepted codec formats are now clear as H.264 for video and High Efficiency AAC (HE-AAC) v2 for audio. Integrated silicon and handset devices that support these codecs are becoming widely available.

Infrastructure is another important consideration in rolling out a mobile TV network. The apparent consensus is that there will be a shared network approach to supporting broadcast mobile services as the economics and bandwidth do not seem to stack up for multiple overlapping competitive broadcast networks.

One of the opportunities for organizations with existing high-powered transmitters is to supply the infrastructure for broadcast mobile services as part of a national infrastructure. In some cases, the broadcasters own the existing transmission networks, although in many countries this is managed by a broadcast network operator. These infrastructure companies now have a huge opportunity to become the carrier for the new broadcast mobile services. Sites and planning for transmitters is becoming an ever increasing issue, especially in the developed world. There will be a land grab in order to secure enough locations to build these new transmission networks, but the traditional broadcasters have a huge headstart in this area.

Watching the trials

When reviewing the importance of mobile TV for broadcasters, it is also important to consider the different business drivers that exist in diverse territories across the globe. Increasing numbers are opting to purchase the mobile phone as their primary communications device. Consequently, the delivery of TV to mobile could be the best way for broadcasters to reach many of these new potential customers and thus drive market penetration. Results from recent DVB-H trials, which Nokia has announced in countries such as Indonesia and India, will be watched closely to see how these and other regional factors influence the take-up rate for mobile TV services.

Overall, broadcasters and broadcast network operators are in a prime position to use their existing infrastructure and relationships with content providers and their knowledge of digital headends and conditional access to extract the maximum benefit from the opportunity that mobile TV presents. However, to maximize the opportunity, there is a strong need for collaboration with the MNOs. Together, the content owners, the infrastructure providers and the MNOs can offer a convincing proposition to subscribers. This partnership can present the compelling content, the efficient distribution chain and the end customer relationship/ownership — the three essential elements needed to succeed. A proposition that excludes any one element of this offer is likely to be unsuccessful.

The time for broadcasters to commit to broadcast mobile TV is now to ensure that they can build and maintain market share in both existing and emerging markets.

Tim Sheppard is market manager for broadcast at Cisco's Service Provider Video Technology Group (formally Scientific Atlanta).