There's precedent for mandating DTV tuners in all new cell phones. NAB and others need to make a push to convince Congress of the benefits. For starters, a tuner in every phone would help insure that free, universal TV would live on as a basic high-quality video service for all Americans. Plus, it would also make Americans safer. In a catastrophe, the cell phone network is likely to become overwhelmed and be far more likely to fail than all the individual TV transmitters in a market.
Think About It: 300M Mobile DTV Receivers
Let’s put a mobile DTV receiver in the pocket of every American so that they can tune into their favorite broadcast show anytime, anywhere — in the store, on the bus, at the dentist.
How do we do it? Convince Congress to mandate DTV tuners in all new cell phones.
There is precedent. In 1962, Congress passed the All-Channel Receiver Act requiring UHF tuners in all TV sets. Forty years later, drawing authority from the act, the FCC required digital tuners in some sets starting in July 2004 and in all sets after July 2007.
Now, in an effort to end the long standoff over music royalties, the NAB and the recording industry are working on compromise legislation that, among other things, would mandate FM tuners in all cell phones. Though controversial, it could become law.
What a good idea.
A mobile DTV tuner mandate would not put a phone in the pocket of all Americans. Some are too poor or too young to own cell phones. Others, believe it or not, just don’t roll with phones. They don’t want to be on the grid 24/7 for whatever reason.
But it would come pretty darn close. According to CTIA, the wireless trade group, as of last December, there were 285.6 million wireless subscribers. That’s a big number, especially when you consider that there were about 305 million people in the U.S. at the time.
Given those numbers, a tuner mandate would revolutionize broadcasting. The medium would no longer be defined (and confined) by 114 million TV homes.
It would truly become broadcasting for the first time in the sense that people could have access to it nearly everywhere, just like AM and FM. (Nearly. You can forget about the New York subways. Nothing gets down there.)
Broadcasters would be able to monetize the huge mobile audience by selling advertising or subscriptions or both. Viewership of a cell phone could be measured in real time just as it is on cable boxes.
But there’s no doubt a tuner mandate would be a tough sell in Washington. The big problem would probably be cost. According to Sinclair’s Mark Aitken, as big a proponent of mobile DTV as there is, a mobile DTV tuner would add between $10 and $20 to each cell phone, half of it going to patent holders. That’s a lot of dough in the consumer electronics would where component costs are often tabulated in pennies.
Aitken says that whenever you approach cell phone vendors about mobile DTV, the first thing they ask is who’s going to pay for it.
The CEA and phone vendors are flipping out over the prospect of a mandated FM tuner and, according to Aitken, that would add no more than $1 to the cost. Imagine the outcry if the broadcasters started pushing mobile DTV tuners.
Another obstacle would be the current FCC leadership and other policymakers who don’t want to do anything to perpetuate broadcasting.
Remember, they have already concluded that the future of media in the U.S. belongs to wireless broadband. They want broadcasting to wither so that can recapture the spectrum and auction it for broadband.
But a strong case for mobile DTV tuners can be made, some of it right from the FM tuner playbook.
For starters, broadcasters could argue that a tuner in every phone would help insure that free, universal TV would live on as a basic high-quality video service for all Americans, no matter how much money they have and despite what the broadband elite say.
It would also make Americans safer. In emergencies, broadcast radio and TV have always filled critical roles in keeping citizens informed and morale up. In a catastrophe, the cell phone network is likely to become overwhelmed and be far more likely to fail than all the individual TV transmitters in a market.
Much has been written lately about all the wonderful new local news services popping up on the Web. But none have proven themself in a crisis as TV broadcasters have time and time again. None has the experience, resources and talent. Where are you going to turn when the creek rises? Patch?
Broadcasters should be able to negotiate their way onto cell phones. That’s one of the reasons why Fox, NBC, Ion and nine leading TV station group are forming Mobile Content Ventures. And why many other groups are organizing as The Mobile 500. They will have the weight and numbers to deal with the carriers and vendors.
And if the carriers and vendors think they can make money by installing tuners into the phone, they will do it.
If for any reason those efforts stall or fail, the NAB ought to step right in and go for a mandate.
I’ve got a feeling that NAB is going to get its compromise with the FM tuner mandate. And if NAB can do it for FM, it can do it for TV.
Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. You can reach him at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]