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As the DTV Transition for US Homes Nears, What About Mobile TV’s Uptake Status in the US?

As analog and mostly over-the-air TV consumers in the US gird themselves for what has been a tumultuous and delayed digital transition, at the opposite end of “the spectrum” is TV moving out of the home and becoming ultimately mobile for those consumers who aren’t satisfied only watching their favorite programming when stationary at home. Mobile broadcast TV has been available for a few years now, and there are estimates that worldwide mobile broadcast TV revenues will eclipse $1 billion this year. But it is also widely known that the US has lagged other developing regions, Asia especially, when it comes to watching TV on their mobile-handheld devices.

Oddly enough, mobile TV economics subject matter experts state that TV that is broadcast by traditional broadcast means ( and dedicated broadcast networks – not cellular networks) is the most economical way to deliver mobile TV, different from streaming or downloading video online over the Internet and the new all-digital IPTV and Triple Play landline networks that are in vogue. There are five ways to deliver video to mobile phones: 1) Unicast using cellular networks that deliver on a one-to-one basis, 2) Multicast using cellular networks on a one-to-many basis, 3) Over-the-air downloading for offline viewing, 4) Offline downloading requiring other devices such as a PC, and 5) Broadcast using a separate network optimized for broadcast to many. Video delivered other than broadcast or streaming has been the largest mobile video entertainment market to date, followed by streaming video and then broadcast video. Some predict that broadcast mobile TV revenues will increase dramatically worldwide beginning in 2010. Others debate that if you believe advertising will play a part in sponsoring broadcast mobile TV that advertisers will await better quality and critical mass of viewers.

The two primary competing US mobile TV providers that have been providing service the longest are Flo TV and MobiTV. Qualcomm in San Diego has been building its Flo TV network since 2003. They began constructing their digital network then in anticipation of the DTV transition when freed up spectrum would be utilized. DTV transition delays hurt them as a result. Flo TV is only available on nine cell phone models to date, but to both AT&T and Verizon subscribers. It requires a special chip that is not installed on most phones. Also, because of the size of the spectrum purchased by Qualcomm they are currently only delivering twelve channels. Due to some of these limitations Flo TV has plans to deliver content to in-car entertainment systems and other transportable screens application that doesn’t require carrier networks, but will require greater numbers of chips in DVD players or phones.

MobiTV operates over cellular networks, is available on more devices due to no need for special chips, and is delivering over 40 channels in select areas. It currently is considered lower quality than Flo TV but is expected to improve dramatically with 3G and ultimately 4G mobile network build-outs. MobiTV’s greatest carrier partner is Sprint and is included in Sprint’s Simply Everything Plan. Subscriber estimates are over 7 million in 2009.

Competing with both Flo TV and MobiTV is the Open Mobile Video Coalition that is paying only $50,000 to $150,000 per broadcast “station” to install mobile transmitters to send out TV channels to mobile phones. Manufacturers such as LG Electronics are making devices that can receive OMVC’s signal and will be available by the end of 2009. Who has tried mobile TV and what has been your experience?

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