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Mobile TV Gets Big Push

Broadcasters in 22 markets will beam free programming that's optimized for mobile devices like cell phones, laptops, and in-car media players.
The Consumer Electronics Show has typically been a showcase for huge television sets, but this year some broadcasters focused on the small and mobile screen.

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, an industry consortium made up of major broadcasters, has agreed to a mobile TV standard and said 63 stations in 22 U.S. cities will provide free, over-the-air programming for mobile devices sometime in 2009.

The mobile TV service will be based on the ATSC Mobile DTV standard, and it should become finalized in the middle of this year. The standard is based on a system developed by Harris Broadcast and LG Electronics, and it enables broadcasters to send mobile programming without compromising the station's standard of high-definition digital television programming. The coalition said it will cost about $250,000 to add mobile DTV capabilities to existing transmission stations.

"Broadcasters should be recognized for seizing an opportunity to provide the entertainment and public service benefits of live, local television coverage to mobile consumers," said David Rehr, president of the National Association of Broadcasters. "Consumers want to utilize mobile devices to follow news and sports, as well as local, regional and national emergency announcements and other content that they have come to expect from their local television states. The rollout of mobile DTV will give them the opportunity to experience all those benefits."

There are no devices on the market capable of playing this standard, but the coalition said launching the mobile TV service will spur consumer electronics makers to create cell phones, laptops, in-car devices, and portable video game consoles that can take advantage of it. The rollout date is tentative, but the largest markets that will participate are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.

What's unclear is how the wireless carriers will react to this service, as AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless offer their own over-the-air paid mobile video services. These services have not gained much traction with customers, and one report said this is mainly because of the monthly cost.

The carriers' services could co-exist along with the broadcaster's mobile TV, as it's unclear what type of content will be broadcast for free. While local news and programming may be beamed to devices without cost, premium content like live sports may remain exclusive to paid services.