Networks Should Energize Mobile DTV Push

We just keep waiting for the widespread deployment of mobile DTV. What we need is for the broadcast networks to make a real commitment to the new technology. If mobile DTV were real, don't you think Chase Carey, Les Moonves, Steve Burke and Bob Iger would be talking it up wherever and whenever they could? I have no evidence that any of those executives even know what mobile DTV is.

I have to say I was a little disappointed with my Christmas loot this year.

I much appreciated the L.L. Bean jacket and Armani Code from my daughters and shirts and sweater from my wife, but what I really wanted was a tablet on which I could watch all the local TV stations here in New York and as I traveled about the country.

The disappointment was compounded by the fact that broadcasters have been promising that tablet for a couple of years now.

This week, the two consortia of broadcasters making such promises issued press releases that suggest that maybe — just maybe — I won’t be disappointed again next year.

After a long gestation period, two staunch members of the Mobile500, Fisher Communications and Hubbard Broadcasting, said they would conduct a “soft launch” of their mobile DTV service in Seattle (where Fisher has KOMO) and Minneapolis (where Hubbard has KSTP).

They will distribute 750 mobile DTV dongles to consumers in each market and assess their usage. The dongles clip to iPhone and iPhones, turning them into mobile DTV receivers. It sounds less like a launch, and more like a limited consumer trial — a stage I thought we had passed in 2010.


Meanwhile, Dyle, which comprises NBC, Fox and 10 other major TV station groups, said that it had lined up Rentrak to keep track of the viewership of its service. It’s a step, but not a big one.

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Next week, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Dyle and the Mobile500 will have adjoining booths and, I expect, they will once again be hyping what a big deal mobile DTV is going to be someday. Just you wait and see.

“It’s taking a lot longer than any of us wanted,” John Lawson, executive director of Mobile500 Alliance, tells our reporter Jack Messmer.

“But a lot’s been happening behind the scenes on the ground,” he insists — for example, making sure that Dyle and Mobile500 can both be received all mobile DTV receivers. Fear that they wouldn’t has discourage some manufacturers, he says.

Also, says Lawson, skeptical mobile device makers “want to see some broadcasters really start using their air time to promote mobile DTV.”

That’s fine, but at this point I want to see more than that. I want to see the networks make a real commitment to mobile DTV. So far, Fox and NBC have lent two competent business development executives to the enterprise — Erik Moreno and Salil Dalvi, respectively.

But executives above their modest rank have had little to say about mobile DTV. If mobile DTV were real, don’t you think Chase Carey, Roger Ailes, Steve Burke and Ted Harbert would be talking it up wherever and whenever they could? I have no evidence that any of those executives even know what mobile DTV is.

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And despite their involvement, neither Fox nor NBC has apparently given any of their affiliates, including those involved in Dyle, permission to use network programming in the mobile DTV service as part of a full-blown rollout of the service. We keep asking the question and we keep getting non-answers.

For their part, ABC and CBS have shown scant interest in mobile DTV, although they have allowed some of their affiliates to include network programming to their trial broadcasts to nowhere.

The big hurdle in all this has been persuading the wireless carriers and mobile device makers to equip their phones with the mobile DTV receive chip. Why would any of them agree to make such an investment without the full and unqualified backing of the entire broadcasting industry?

There are also lingering questions about the basic technology. Chief among them is whether the mobile DTV standard is rugged enough to blanket a market with a strong signal. I have my doubts, but I’ll reserve judgment until I get a Dyle dongle out here in the mountains 20 miles west of the Empire State Building.

I also don’t think that the smartphone is going to work as a mobile DTV platform if it has to have a telescoping whip antenna tucked into it as does the only available Dyle smartphone today — the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G.

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The announcements by Dyle and Mobile500 this week were meant to insure the consumer electronics world on the eve of its big convention that mobile DTV was still viable.

But those press releases were offset by news that broadcasters were folding the Open Mobile Video Coalition into the NAB. To me, that signaled that the industry’s interest in mobile DTV was waning. I don’t think I am the only one.

OMVC brought the industry together to create the mobile DTV standard and then promoted the idea. Executive Director Anne Shelle had been the chief evangelist for the service. Now there is no one filling that role.

If mobile DTV is to really get rolling, Dyle and the Mobile500 need to convince wireless carriers and device manufacturers that the best of network programming will be available in the service and that the networks will get behind a massive marketing push.

The best way to do that is for those aforementioned network executives to get out in front on this. It would also be nice if Les Moonves and Bob Iger got on board, too.

That’s what I would call progress. I might even be tempted to put that mobile DTV tablet on my wish list again.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (5)

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Christina Perez says:

January 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Harry, there are USB stick dongles already on the market that can receive mobile TV signals. The industry seems to pretend that this is a technology question. No, it’s a matter of business models. The coalition efforts are proprietary systems that require registration, the first step toward marketing pay TV channels via broadcast DTV. If the industry could promote the free availability of OTA mobile TV right now if it wanted to. Apparently, it does not want to migrate the traiditional OTA model to mobile TV. As I have remarked elsewhere, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because it is the ubiquity of broadcast TV, available via cable/satellite/telco OR free OTA, that has made broadcast TV the most efficient advertising medium on the planet. Seems to me that you should be advocating the promotion of FREE, OTA mobile DTV as a necessary first step toward opening up a secondary pay tier of channels to broadcasters. I know you’re up in the woods today, but please don’t miss the forest for the trees here….

Eugene Thompson says:

January 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Mobile DTV in 2013 – I’m reminded of that old college drinking song that includes the chorus, “LET’S HAVE ANOTHER ONE, JUST LIKE THE OTHER ONE”. Until a strategy is implemented that initially replicates the old Sony Watchman and AM/FM/TV Band audio consumer experience, it’ will be deja vu all over again.

Allyson Mongrain says:

January 4, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Harry I could of saved your 2008, 2009,2010, and 2011 mobile articles. Still I would love to see a business model for mobile that actually works, why would NBC, FOX or who ever fragment their already fragmented business, when they do mobile they do it directly to the consumer and charge for it. Beside with everyone from Netfilxs ,Sony, to Amazon is providing programming viewing options. The jury’s still out on how many ways content will be provided going foward and which the business model that will win out, and it not will raise or fall on a do-hicky on a mobile phone.

Ellen Samrock says:

January 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm

This has all the earmarks of the HD Radio debacle and more. Apathy from broadcasters coupled with a lack of consumer awareness. Add to this the threat of government confiscation of broadcaster’s spectrum and you have yet another promising and lucrative technology that is pretty much DOA. It also doesn’t help that there are two different and competing mobile DTV groups trying to grow the technology. As for convincing handset manufacturers to put mobile DTV in phones, well, if the NAB can’t get FM radio chips activated in cellphones, what chance does mobile DTV have?

Grace PARK says:

January 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Them TV groups be lovin’ their retrans fees.

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