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Broadcaster Group Signs on for Mobile DTV

A group of 12 TV broadcasters has joined in on plans for free, live mobile TV, promising service in 20 metropolitan areas by late next year.

On Friday, the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) said it will upgrade TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and 16 other markets to a standards-based digital TV system. That technology, based on a standard from the ATSC (Advanced Television System Committee), lets broadcasters use part of their spectrum to deliver TV to specially equipped mobile devices. The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) has been promoting this technology for about two years and conducted successful trials in the Washington, D.C., area.

Backers of this mobile TV effort say their approach will succeed where others, such as Qualcomm's FLO TV, have generated little interest. Instead of reinventing TV and creating special programming lineups just for mobile, the OMVC approach lets local stations extend their existing broadcasts and advertising-based business model to mobile devices. Local news, for example, is a major draw for viewers, they said. The OMVC said last month that broadcasts using this system would begin by the end of this year and that more than 70 stations across the country were planning to offer broadcasts.

MCV includes both the Fox and NBC broadcast networks as well as ION Television and a venture called Pearl Mobile DTV. Pearl itself is made up of Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television and other broadcasters. The areas where they will broadcast represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, MCV said.

The MCV said its members would broadcast news, entertainment and sports programming, including at least two free, ad-supported channels in each market. To receive these shows, consumers will need a device equipped to receive the signals, which will be encrypted, MCV said. The MCV is working with manufacturers to make such devices available in the second half of 2011.

There is already a DVD player with mobile digital TV capability on the market. The player, made by LG, sells for just over US$200 on Amazon.com. Last month the OMVC said a handheld receiver with Wi-Fi, as well as USB dongles for laptops, would ship in time for the year-end holidays. All such products currently need to have an external antenna.

Qualcomm, which launched FLO TV in 2007 and offered it through AT&T and Verizon Wireless, has stopped selling new devices for it and is now exploring a sale or other arrangement for the dedicated broadcast networks it built in numerous U.S. cities.

In the Washington-area trial, more than 63 percent of the 150 participants watched mobile TV on a daily basis, according to research company Rentrak, which gathered statistics about the test. Most watched between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, which typically are slow hours for local TV viewing.

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