Mobile TV Broadcasts Could Start in December

Consumers will buy receivers in fall 2009, but they're unlikely to be cellphones at first.

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A mobile digital TV receiver.
A mobile digital TV receiver.

To try to understand yesterday's news that digital TV is soon coming to hand-helds, we spoke with Jay Adrick, a vice president at Harris Corp., which makes broadcasting gear. Harris said yesterday that because South Korean manufacturers dropped their format battle, it would start selling gear to local stations as soon as November, even before a final standard is approved next year. Excerpts of the conversation with Adrick:

We already have portable televisions that we can carry around to get analog TV. Why is this a big deal?

The analog signals get turned off in February. The new digital signals were never designed to reach mobile devices. The digital TV standard was designed for fixed receivers, and there was an assumption there was an antenna involved. Society is very mobile today. Broadcasters want to reach those mobile viewers.

When will the new mobile TV broadcasts begin?

Some stations will be early adopters and go on the air as early as December [2008]. Many others will follow next year. I expect half of the stations in the U.S. will be broadcasting for mobile devices within two years. And when will we as consumers be able to buy devices to watch them?

[When broadcasts begin] there will only be a handful of devices out there, mostly prototypes for testing. It's the old chicken and the egg. People don't want to buy consumer devices until there is something to watch on them. I expect to see devices in stores by September or October [2009], in time for that holiday buying season. Will they be cellphones or some other type of receiver?

I expect they initially are going to be other-than-cellphone receivers. They'll be laptops, navigation devices, personal media receivers, in-car receivers. Cellphones are going to require cooperation between broadcasters and cellphone carriers. There is a lot of what I would call "missionary work" being done now between broadcasters and the carriers. What will be available for us to watch?

There are four things that broadcasters know viewers want when they're on the move: news, weather, sports, and traffic. There will also be some replication of what stations are broadcasting on their terrestrial service. But some stations might have eight or more mobile channels. Those would include specialty channels—golf, home and garden, that sort of thing. It'll be all the stuff that you see on cable today. Will we pay for those?

Broadcasters are looking at different business models. Some of those offerings will be supported by commercials. Some will be subscription services, or even pay-per-view.


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