TECH SPOTLIGHT

Broadcasters Dragging Their Feet On M-EAS

With the final vote approaching to approve an ATSC standard for a mobile Emergency Alert System, many of the station groups who can vote to OK it have remained silent. According to a source close to the situation, companies that formally abstained from the last vote included ABC, Fox and the IEEE-BT Society. Belo, Cox, Gannett, Ion, Media General, Dispatch, NBC, CBS, Post-Newsweek and Samsung didn’t vote at all.

The number of non-votes and abstentions to standardize a mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) may reflect the growing apathy surrounding broadcasting’s struggling mobile DTV efforts, say some broadcasters.

In the Advanced Television Systems Committee Jan. 28 vote to make the M-EAS a “proposed standard,” several major broadcasters and vendors either abstained or didn’t vote at all.

The vote easily passed with no objections, but that’s because ATSC doesn’t require a minimum number of votes in its elections. Only two-thirds approval by members who submit a vote is needed.

Many members of the Mobile Content Venture (MCV), also known as Dyle — one of two main groups attempting to advance mobile DTV — either abstained or didn’t vote. By contrast, several members of the Mobile500 Alliance, the other mobile DTV consortium, did vote in favor of the M-EAS standard.

M-EAS is an add-on application to mobile DTV that has the capability of waking up a smartphone or tablet and triggering a banner that tells the user details of the emergency. Additionally, it can send along evacuation maps or weather radar images using a non-real time transmission.

Results were sent to all ATSC members in early February, following the Jan. 28 vote — the second of three elections to complete the standard. An online vote to finalized the standard is slated for March 11 by 11:59 p.m. ET.

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According to a source close to the situation, companies that formally abstained from the vote included ABC, News Corp. (Fox) and the IEEE-BT Society. Belo, Cox, Gannett, Ion, Media General, Dispatch, NBC, CBS, Post-Newsweek and Samsung didn’t vote at all. All the non-voters except CBS are involved with the MCV.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous because ATSC voting results are disclosed only to members, said “the lack of support of many [MCV] companies, plus ABC and CBS, indicates how difficult it is to rally the broadcasting industry around something even as strategically in their interest as mobile EAS.”

ATSC President Mark Richer downplayed the abstentions and non-votes as insignificant. “We have all kinds of members,” he says. “Some companies feel they don’t have the technical knowledge that they may need to support something, or they just have no interest in something.”

But some TV executives say the lack of voting demonstrates the apathy surrounding mobile DTV. Jim Ocon, Gray Television Group VP of technology, says his team has spent a lot of time and money to broadcast a mobile DTV signal, but they now feel like a bride left at the altar.

“Is there apathy around it? Definitely. Disappointment? Yes. We can still vote on this, but meanwhile, everyone is looking for some other over-the-top solution to get video out to local viewers,” says Ocon.

“I want mobile TV, but the two groups are split [MCV and the Mobile500] and have caused myself and others to go sour on this. We’ve missed that opportunity by confusing consumer electronics and viewers by having two groups. We should have never done this — there should only be one group.”

Ocon doesn’t dismiss M-EAS. In fact, he voted to approve it as a proposed standard and says it could be what the industry needs to push the struggling mobile DTV technology forward. “I hope it can be the catalyst to move the ball forward to make mobile TV viable.”

Dave Siegler, Cox Media Group VP of technology, is one of the ATSC members who didn’t vote on the M-EAS proposed standard election, but he declined to say why.

“With any election or survey that we’re bombarded with, people don’t have to vote. There were some abstentions, but what does that mean? People are probably over-thinking it. Remember, mobile EAS is just one component of mobile DTV. There are a lot of components — and it’s more than just business. It’s three-legged — technical, business and politics.”

Despite not voting, Siegler says he’s in full support of M-EAS. “It has a lot of promise. We all know the benefits of EAS. This is an extension of that to get it to mobile.”

John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile500 Alliance and an adviser to LG Electronics for the M-EAS project, doesn’t entirely understand why the penultimate vote to finalize the M-EAS standard had so many non-responses.

“Broadcasters, by nature, are wary of a voluntary service like this, because they fear it could get turned into a mandate — I get that,” he says. “But mobile EAS is a no brainer. The same broadcasters have been carrying state and local alerts voluntarily for decades to the whole DMA. With mobile, the alerts don’t clutter the main TV screen and they can be geo-targeted, so you’re not alerting someone who’s not impacted.”

Lawson was surprised, however, that many Dyle member station groups and companies abstained or didn’t vote altogether. “M-EAS can help drive adoption of Dyle as much as MyDTV, or any other mobile DTV services,” he says. “They’ve never indicated to us anything but support for it.” (MyDTV is how Mobile500 broadcasters have branded their service.)

Erik Moreno, Dyle co-general manager, wouldn’t comment on why specific members opted to not vote, but said: “For us, we’re incredibly supportive of mobile EAS. It’s incredibly handy and part of the solution.”

He went on to say when Superstorm Sandy knocked out power along the East Coast, people who had the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray used it often because it was their only way to watch local broadcasts and receive the latest information.

Jay Adrick, chairman of the M-EAS implementation team, called the lack of votes purely coincidental. “This isn’t entirely unusual,” he says. “Not every member is engaged with every activity. Some are just concerned about 3D or ATSC 3.0; some people are concerned about mobile EAS.”

Adrick adds that he wouldn’t call the poor voting turnout apathy. “They’re just overloaded. Some of these guys may own 15 to 40 stations; they’re head over heels trying to run the day-to-day operations.

“What’s significant,” Adrick emphasizes, “is that there were no ‘no’ votes.”

But some station group members might abstain or not vote altogether because they’re pursuing other ways to deliver live TV to mobile devices. ABC abstained and CBS didn’t bother to vote. Both networks are actively working on their own alternative to mobile DTV.

TVNewsCheck reported last month on CBS’s plan to partner with the startup Syncbak, a smartphone and tablet app that restricts reception to mobile devices within a stations’ markets. Additionally, ABC is looking to expand its Watch ESPN initiative to include the ABC affiliates.

The affiliates would pay ABC for the rights to stream the ABC programming using the network’s video player, but could recoup those feed by charging cable operators to make the service available to their customers.

Andrew Dodson is TVNewsCheck‘s technology editor. He can be reached at 303-800-4581 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewDodson.


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