The nation’s capital will be the first city to get free, over-the-air digital TV signals for mobile phones, laptops and other devices as part of a broadcasting trade group effort to bring the service to 39 percent of households by the end of the year.
There’s a catch, though. There’s no products that currently support the technology.
But that’s not stopping the backers of the Mobile DTV standard, who admit the technology is still in its infancy in the U.S. However, they say that many devices are in development that will eventually allow people to watch the same programming that’s broadcast on standard television sets on a variety of mobile gadgets and in cars.
Mobile DTV is being promoted by the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a group comprised of TV networks like NBC and Fox and station owners including Hearst Argyle Television, Gannett Broadcasting and Cox Television. Together, they’re working with consumer electronics players to support the development and rollout of mobile DTV products and services.
And while the spec has yet to see its first products come to market, that won’t be the case for long, a a spokesperson for the OMVC told InternetNews.com.
“LG has a bunch of devices in the works — three smartphones, a DVD player, a portable viewer and Dell just announced a netbook,” the spokesperson said. “Kenwood is working on an in-vehicle entertainment system. Visteon and Delphi also have car devices in the works, and laptops can receive mobile DTV with a dongle coming from three different companies. It’s all very real.”
The OMVC hopes more manufacturers will jump on board now that there’s a plan in place to begin offering the format this year, with Washington, D.C. as the first city on tap.
The news comes at a time when mobile TV is poised to gain significant traction in the consumer marketplace, Jeff Orr, senior analyst at ABI Research, told InternetNews.com.
“It’s been hugely popular in Japan and South Korea since 2005, but here it’s new, and the approaching switchover to all-digital television broadcasting in the United States and other major countries will create an unprecedented opportunity for the mobile TV market,” Orr said.
Following the switchover, traditional and mobile TV broadcasters as well as mobile operators in many regions will launch mobile TV services that could attract over 500 million viewers by 2013, Orr added.
And while the benefits are clear for traditional broadcasters and advertisers who stand to gain viewers that aren’t in front of their home TV sets, it remains to be seen how mobile network operators will react.
Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE: T) offer subscription-based mobile video and will find themselves competing with a free format, prompting some industry watchers to wonder if they’d block smartphones and other devices that support Mobile DTV from their networks.
Efforts by carriers to ensure services like Mobile DTV don’t cannibalize their own offerings may be one possible outcome. After all, AT&T and Apple limited the free Internet phone service Skype for the iPhone to use on Wi-Fi rather than allow Skype calls on the 3G cellular network.
Yet, Orr said he thinks there’s room in the mobile space for everyone, saying the scenario will be similar to how decide to receive TV in our homes.
“The wireless operators are likely to differentiate their services the same way cable and satellite does in comparison to DTV,” Orr said. “If you want the eight to 10 channels that you get with your Vcast or AT&T TV on your phone and it doesn’t cost that much more, maybe you’re fine with that.”
“But maybe you’d rather have a device with a tuner and get your local TV stations for free,” he said. “It’s the same kind of decision making that goes on now.”
Additionally, Orr thinks that mobile TV service adoption will only increase as the marketing plans become more sophisticated.
“Right now, it’s sold at the end of long menu of choices from the cellular service” after voice service and texting, he added. “Mobile TV gets lost in the a la carte marketing clutter presented to the consumer. However, Mobile TV will soon be positioned in a more proper role as an extension of traditional broadcast TV services and that will boost adoption.”
As for the goal of the OMVD in getting more devices to market, Orr is optimistic.
“Mobile TV viewing will not solely be on cellular handsets, but also on [mobile Internet devices] and automotive infotainment systems. I believe that once the content is available and the services launched, mobile TV will enable more classes of mobile devices that are ‘natural fits’ for mobile entertainment.”