Standard set for mobile TV

Mobile digital television is a step closer to reality, boosting the hopes of TV stations that they’ll soon be able to generate new revenue by beaming their signals directly to cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices.

On Friday, mobile TV cleared a key technical hurdle when the Advanced Television Systems Committee approved a single mobile telecasting standard that stations can use. The ATSC’s decision eliminates the possibility of a format war breaking out a la Betamax vs. VHS or HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.

Obstacles still remain, however, before a business can emerge. Broadcasters have yet to persuade content providers, handset makers and mobile carriers to make products and services available for the new technology.

National Assn. of Broadcasters exec veep Dennis Wharton said public demand will make this happen. “Say you’re a sports fan at a college football game, and another game that’s really important to you is on at same time,” he said. “While I’m watching my team live in the stadium, I’ll want to be watching the other team on a handheld portable device.”

With the technical issues largely settled, broadcasters said they’re now focused on figuring out how to make a business out of mobile TV.

“It’s good to have this milestone behind us so we can now turn our attention to working with the content community and put the technology to work from a business-model perspective,” said Brandon Burgess, CEO of station group Ion Media Networks, who’s also prexy of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, the 800-station group advocating mobile DTV.

According to Burgess, two key manufacturers of mobile devices — LG and Samsung — are already onboard to produce mobile TV-ready equipment. The next big challenge for stations is to work with mobile service providers.

“It will take some time to get agreements with the Verizons and AT&Ts of this world,” Wharton agreed, “but we’ll be moving aggressively.”

The cost of setting up mobile services is not an obstacle — it ranges in the low six figures per station — because broadcasters can use existing tower and transmission infrastructure. Most believe that the content will be largely local and ad-supported, contributing much-needed coin to the beleaguered TV station community.

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