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Where's the disconnect?

Following a lengthy standardization process and comprehensive testing regimen, the long-awaited A/153, the ATSC's DTV standard for mobile television, was finally adopted on Oct. 15, 2009. Several months later, companies showed various implementations of handheld reception devices, essentially in prototype form, at the Consumer Electronics Show.

More recently at the CTIA show, the wireless and cellular industries' equivalent to CES and NAB, LG showed prototypes of several soon-to-be-available cell phones that include an imbedded mobile DTV reception capability. Simplifying the design of such mobile devices, LG, which was both integral in the development of the mobile DTV transmission standard and influential in its final adoption, also showed single-chip reception technology. LG's complete receiver on a chip incorporates a fully functional tuner/decoder on a 7mm square substrate and is designed for integration into cell phones. Simply add an antenna, power and a display, and you're in business. The LG2161R, incorporating both the radio frequency tuner and the mobile DTV demodulator for reception and display of the mobile DTV signals, is currently in pilot production and will move to mass production this summer.

Consumers will soon have a variety of mobile DTV reception options, and the holiday shopping season should provide a great opportunity for the marketing and promotion of mobile DTV. Some educational activity will be needed so that consumers understand the difference between mobile DTV and the various mobile television subscription services, such as Qualcomm's Flo TV. Another wild card is Apple. The company clearly has focused on TV programming distribution, and its recent launch of the iPad has the potential to completely change the publishing industry's distribution model just as the iTunes store revolutionized music industry distribution. Already numerous magazines and newspapers ranging from the The Wall Street Journal to your local daily have announced plans for electronic subscriptions custom delivered for the iPad. Following publishing, it appears the broadcast industry will be moving next into Apple's crosshairs.

Despite the plethora of services being offered by all of this competition, mobile DTV still finds a potentially strong place in the market according to several recent polls and market studies. One study by the market researcher Frank N. Magid Associates reported that local news content is the key driver for mobile DTV. Here's an excerpt from the report:

CONTENT

When mobile DTV is available, what kinds of programs will consumers want to see?

News is the clear leader for mobile DTV content. Nine in 10 respondents (88 percent) said they would watch at least one of several news categories measured. Most notably, interest in mobile news programming among young adult Millennials (18-29 years old) is quite strong compared to their relatively weak local news viewing on standard television sets.

Among the news categories tested, breaking news (76 percent), emergency reports (75 percent) and weather (74 percent) topped the list, and they tend to be localized in focus. Other types of news programs trailed but still had large support in the 50-59 percent range. Entertainment programs rank lower but still appeal to two-thirds of device owners.

Mobile DTV is represented by an industry trade group, the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), which characterizes mobile DTV as the “power of local TV on the go.” There are several other studies that indicate a high level of consumer interest in mobile DTV driven by desires to watch local news, sports and weather.

A robust proof of technical performance, confirmed consumer interest and numerous soon-to-be-available reception and display devices are converging into potential market success for mobile DTV. On the fiscal side, OMVC touts mobile DTV as representing a significant new revenue stream for the broadcasting industry. And, several industry analysts have gone so far as to trumpet mobile DTV as the fiscal savior for local broadcast.

The disconnect

So, where's the disconnect? How about multiple disconnects! Certainly, there's no need to reiterate to this readership the myriad of announcements concerning the reductions of local news staff, the merging of local news operations and newscasts under news LMAs, and the elimination of some newscasts entirely. Then there's the FCC's spectrum grab — wanting to take (at this writing) an additional 120MHz of spectrum space from broadcasters.

So, we have a nascent market whose potential for growth is tied to the availability of locally generated news content delivered via a slice of RF spectrum. The folks who generate that local content are reducing or eliminating their capability to do so. Simultaneously, the delivery pipe for that content is coming under threat. This all amounts to disconnect, spelled D-I-S-C-O-N-N-E-C-T.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

Send questions and comments to: anthony.gargano@penton.com