While most agree that the new technology is vital to over-the-air TV’s success in the future, differences over copyrights, affiliate-network rights and relations still need to be worked out.
Although there has been movement toward launching mobile DTV, broadcasters, government leaders and technology manufacturers still need to resolve lingering issues — from network-affiliate relationships to industry unity — before it becomes reality.
“The industry concurrence is that mobile is a good thing,” said Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast Group VP, advanced technology, and a Mobile 500 leader.
“Now the primary bottleneck is not technology, but issues such as rights issues; how those rights get conveyed through network affiliation relations; what is the role of network versus affiliate on deployment strategy,” he said. “It’s sort of like saying how do we solve the bottleneck in Washington?”
Speaking on the subject at the Content & Communications World expo in New York Wednesday, individuals working on the initiative shared their vision of how mobile DTV could work, but did not have concrete answers when it came to questions of creating a united front, ironing out copyright issues and technology.
If there is any movement regarding the merging of the two broadcast groups working on getting mobile DTV off the ground — Mobile Content Venture, which includes the Fox, NBC, Ion Media and nine major stations groups, and the Mobile 500, which comprises most other TV station groups — no one on either side was saying so.
“I don’t think there’s a fundamental oppositional force of work here. There’s just been a focus on two different elements of mobile TV deployment,” Aiken said.
Aitken said he sees Mobile 500 working more on the “content side of the equation, starting with consumers first and revenue second.” MCV’s focus is more on implementing a mobile DTV system and the development of devices that can receive the content.
Nor was there any talk of CBS and ABC joining Mobile Content Venture.
“You’ll have to read it in the press release,” said Eric Marino, who, as co-general manager of Mobile Content Venture and SVP, corporate development, Fox Networks Group, would not say if, or when, such a press release might be issued. However, the framework exists for other networks or station groups to join the organization.
In addressing another controversial topic — whether affiliates will be able to broadcast sports and primetime content and, if so, under what circumstances — Marino said he believes that issue, too, can be resolved, though it is up to each individual network and station to do so.
“From our perspective, there is no difference between the network and the affiliate because we ultimately believe … we have to work together to get service in a DMA,” he said.
Fox, the network, has presented affiliates with proposed frameworks for working together, which affiliates are now evaluating, he said.
But mobile DTV cannot move forward without all segments of the television business working together, he said.
“Ultimately economic incentives should drive investment and decisions about how a station makes use of its spectrum and services they want to provide,” Marino said. “The ability for us to have a ubiquitous and nationwide service requires absolute cooperation and participation from our affiliates.”
Referencing ongoing disputes between Fox and its affiliates, Aitken said it is not that simple. “When Fox is willing to have discussions of mobile rights within the context of larger affiliate rights, then we’ll have that discussion,” he said.
Nonetheless, all the panelists — Mark Richer, president of ATSC, which developed standards for mobile TV, and Joseph Igoe, VP-CTO of WGBH Boston — agreed that mobile DTV is essential for securing broadcasting’s future.
“If it doesn’t happen that broadcasting is going to go away,” Richer said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said, adding that broadcasters do, however, need to change their outlook of the industry. “I think focus will change to these un-tethered devices.”