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TV Broadcasters Embrace Mobility

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As consumers go mobile and hunt for ways to take their favorite shows “on the go,” different players in the TV industry are approaching the problem (or opportunity) of mobility in different ways.

Traditional TV broadcasters are taking a decidedly non-traditional view – moving to merge Internet functionality with over-the-air broadcasting to make sure that they way people have watched TV for more than 80 years will continue to be relevant.

Federal regulators are reacting, too, trying to encourage TV broadcasters to sell underutilized TV spectrum to wireless phone companies.

Pay TV operators are rolling out new tablet and phone Apps to keep viewers tuned in while TV networks themselves dabble in network-specific Apps for prime time shows.  ABC announced a new App for its network content this week, while ESPN is in discussions with wireless companies about paying for subscriber’s data plans if they are burning wireless minutes to watch ESPN on a phone or tablet.

Broadcast AntennaAt the annual meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) last week in Washington, the head of the FCC Media Bureau made clear that they won’t be waiting for standards to be harmonized worldwide. ATSC set the digital TV broadcast standard for the U.S., later endorsed by the FCC.

“I do urge ATSC and the industry to work as fast as you can and want to on ATSC 3.0.  It’s just that I think it’s unrealistic to expect that the incentive auction will slow down to wait,” said FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake, referring to a global effort to bring together next-generation TV standards under the same umbrella.  Wireless industry advocates are calling for the FCC to quickly move ahead with voluntary spectrum auctions, trying to incentivize some broadcasters to move off “beachfront” real estate and sell off their assets to wireless firms.  That might mean faster downloads for mobile users who rely on the traditional phone companies.

Lake summarized the features of ATSC 3.0 as higher data payloads, broadband interactivity, personalization of the viewer experience, premium services and targeted advertising.  He said wireless carriers “have been exploiting these functionalities for a decade, and broadcasters would benefit from doing so.”

In a nutshell, his message:  move faster.

Local TV broadcasters aren’t standing still.  At the same time they are developing new features compatible with current transmission systems, they’ve also got an eye on the future, which might eventually carry jaw-dropping UltraHD channels, mobile TV, Internet functionality, AND faster downloads.

And that may only be the tip of the iceberg, in terms of opportunity.

Erik Moreno, who represents Fox in the push to encourage local broadcasters to adopt Mobile Digital TV transmission, says the broadcast TV industry must make even bolder moves to survive.  He shared his predictions with broadcasters in Washington last week.

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“It’s not an option to go as slow as we’re going,” Moreno told the annual ATSC meeting, suggesting that perhaps broadcasters should pool their spectrum and offer a service even better than phone companies that is focused on wireless data.

“The only thing that stops us is ourselves, because we don’t know how to operate as one single unified body.  At the end of the day there is nothing greater than survival to get you to do something.  The opportunity is so massive — I am talking multi-billion dollar opportunity — and coupled with the fundamental threat of annihilation, it can get us somewhere.”

About the Author
Dave Arland is a 22-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry, working now to promote digital satellite services and broadcast mobile TV. He played a key role in the introduction of HDTV, mp3 audio, and electronic books. He runs Arland Communications, a full-service Public Relations & Communications agency from offices in Carmel, Indiana.

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