Mobile TV May Make A Comeback

I have been tracking the mobile TV space since the early 2000’s and mostly given up after the last push, using DVB-H failed. I tracked quite a bit of research around mobile TV in North America and we performed our own use case research as well. North America as a market for mobile TV is very different then markets like Asia and other parts of Europe.

Large parts of North American populations don’t spend long periods of time commuting on things like trains. In many other parts of the world this is the case and those markets are the ones where Mobile TV has had more success. However, with the rise of tablets, and perhaps even greater installed base of smartphones I wonder if Mobile TV could make a comeback.

While here at CTIA I got caught up with an organization called the OMVC or Open Mobile Video Coalition. This organization is helping launch a new service in the fall called What makes this solution different, and perhaps what gives it the best chance to succeed, is that it is built upon the existing ATSC digital broadcast infrastructure. DVB-H required quite a bit of new infrastructure investments and many did not make them. By integrating right into the existing ATSC infrastructure for broadcast today many broadcasters and networks immediately take advantage of this solution. There are two requirements to make this work. First the broadcast stations need only spend between 15,000-25,000 dollars to add the additional infrastructure to broadcast their existing ATSC signal to mobile devices. This, I am told, is very simple to install and would take a technician about two hours install. Second, the DTV chip needs to be embedded in a mobile device or built into an accessory for a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. will be a free service and will be available as an Android and iOS app. The only cost associated is what is added to the cost of the hardware or can be purchased separately as an adaptor for things tablets and smartphones. The key point is that the rights from every major North American broadcaster have been secured and broadcast content from every major network will be available through the service. will launch in the fall and details about the launch, supporting devices, and adapter accessories will be released around that time as well. It will launch in 210 markets in the US.

Although the market and the infrastructure may be right for mobile TV to make a comeback there is something a bit more interesting with this service. Networks who choose to use their existing infrastructure to deliver mobile TV via to consumers will deliver up to 19.4 mbps bandwidth to devices enabled with the DTV chip. This means that it is possible, should the major networks participating in this service, to also make their streaming content available for catch up TV through this application. And oh by the way the group behind Hulu is the same group who is helping drive this service.

My opinion of mobile TV is that it is only good for live content like news, sports, and check-in-tv. The concept of “check in” TV is where you quickly flip to see what’s on when you are bored or standing in line or want to kill time. It breaks down when you come up against content you have not seen yet due to missing the narrative. Plus with the time shifting habits of most American TV watchers most shows are sitting on the DVR waiting for them at home. So the concept of mobile TV as a time killer is more the value proposition. Integrating this solution into automobiles could be interesting as well. However, if catch up TV solutions via a streaming model get integrated with the service then it could present a much more compelling value proposition.

I will be curious to see more of the details when this service launches in the fall. There are some interesting elements, that if done right, could become an interesting feature and a differentiator for some hardware vendors.