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As Aereo Scores Legal Victory, Stations Search for Their Own Mobile TV Magic

LAS VEGAS — Aereo’s victory in court has a side effect for broadcasters: It has helped instill a sense of urgency on stations to get moving on mobile.

When News Corp. COO Chase Carey dangled the prospect of Fox converting to a subscription-only service should Aereo ultimately win in court, and the ability to carry broadcast streams without any compensation to stations, it may have been as much a wake-up call as a warning. Aereo is not the first start-up to come up with the idea; it was just the first to get this far along in court without a judge shutting it down under the public performance clause of the Copyright Act.

On Tuesday, a marketplace answer was provided at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention panel, in which executives talked up Dyle TV and MyDTV. Essentially, they provide mobile TV service by attaching an antenna-attached accessory to a device — yes, the rabbit ear of old linked to the current smartphone and tablet technology.

The results, according to executives, have been encouraging: Randa Minkarah of Fisher Communications, part of the Mobile500 alliance of stations offering MyDTV, said that the February soft launch in Minneapolis and Seattle showed that there was a “good demographic spread” among the audience and that consumers “love the device.” Dyle TV, a consortium of 12 major broadcast groups that is offering mobile TV in 116 stations in 39 markets, says that it reaches a potential of 57% of the country.

But Dyle TV’s Erik Moreno also said that “right now, if we are going to be successful, we need everyone to participate.” The cost for a station to set up a mobile transmitter is about $150,000, Minkarah said.

It’s not like stations haven’t been experimenting with broadcast streams of the local content, while networks have put more and more of their primetime fare online and have improved the quality of their apps. But when it comes to offering the 24/7 broadcast streams, stations face the same barriers that they say should block Aereo: Rights issues, not to mention undercutting lucrative retransmission consent revenue.

That is what makes Dyle TV and MyDTV different. They are offering simulcasts, not streaming. That’s also their selling point: They don’t quickly reach the limits of data plans because they are not on data plans, just over-the-air free TV. At the panel, there was much talk of their functionality during major disasters, when cellular and wireless networks are down. In the case of MyDTV, the service provides and extra revenue stream for stations as well: There is a short time gap as a user switches channels, leaving room for a commercial. The execs also talked up the ability of both services to gather viewership data.

There are drawbacks: Some of the reviews on tech product sites are less than stellar, mainly because not all stations in a market are on board. In Denver, for instance, only one network affiliate is onboard. Stations and networks still have to be aligned in their strategy, although Moreno, senior VP of corporate development at Fox, says that they have told their affiliates, “If you want to do it, go ahead.” Then there is the antenna itself, an appendage on an otherwise sleekly designed device. Moreno calls Dyle a “stopgap in our innovation curve,” and admits that for mass adoption, they will have to get rid of it. Although older viewers and even the very young accept the antennas, the younger demo that grew up on smartphones is a bit appalled, he noted.

Whether that means developing devices with antennas already installed, or even headphones that capture the broadcast signal, no one really knows. But Aereo’s legal victories and Congress’ inability to unify only add to the uncertainties. The goal is a critical mass for broadcasters’ version of TV everywhere, Moreno said, with the knowledge that “the most valuable content we have is a live linear feed.”

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