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Qualcomm’s MediaFLO mobile-DTV subsidiary is gearing up for an expanded footprint and the first aftermarket devices that will turn any cellphone, iPhone, iPod Touch or portable computing device into a FLO TV receiver.
The company said it will expand its 700MHz FLO TV subscription service to 17 more markets on June 13, the day after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-mandated analog cutoff. The expansion will bring the number of markets served to 85 as part of a previously announced plan to light up 107 markets by the end of the year to reach more than 200 million consumers.
MediaFLO markets that will light up on June 13 will include San Francisco, Cleveland, Miami, Houston and “possibly more,” said Bill Stone, the subsidiary’s new president.
As for products equipped to stream up to 20 channels of live-TV programming, about 10 cellphones are equipped with embedded FLO TV receivers, but by next spring, devices such as USB sticks will be available with embedded FLO TV receivers, Stone said. The USB sticks will enable laptops and other portable computing devices to view the service’s QVGA-resolution video while stationary or moving.
During the CTIA Wireless convention here, the San Diego company demonstrated proof-of-concept USB sticks as well as a 1-inch by 1-inch mini-USB accessory that would turn smartphones and netbooks into a MediaFLO receiver after an over-the-air download of a MediaFLO application.
The company also demonstrated a small Wi-Fi-equipped MediaFLO receiver that sends video via Wi-Fi to the iPhone and iPod Touch for viewing. The receiver, small enough to tuck into a pocket, must be used with a software application downloaded from the iTunes store.
The aftermarket add-ons will be available from other companies “within the next 12 months,” said Stone, who noted the devices were shown behind closed doors during International CES. The devices will likely be sold to both carriers and retailers, he said, noting that it’s “too early to discuss the compensation model.”
Later this year, Audiovox will launch its previously announced MediaFLO car-TV receiver, a pack-of-cards-size device that can be added to any rear-seat entertainment system to view live TV, Stone said.
Audiovox plans late-September or early-October shipments to car-dealer expediters of a MediaFLO receiver that can be plugged into existing OEM and aftermarket A/V entertainment systems, Audiovox Electronics president Tom Malone told TWICE after the show. Availability at key installing retailers would follow about three to four months later, with other retailers getting the product within six months of the expediter launch, Malone said. (See MOBILE SECTION page xx for updated launch plans.)
With the analog cutoff imminent, MediaFLO’s short-term goals are to get a national footprint and more FLO-enabled devices on the market to boost subscriber levels and “drive scale” Stone said. Then the company can focus on delivering ads customized to a particular subscriber and delivering interactive services, he said.
The cost to the consumer of adding MediaFLO to a mobile device is “marginal,” Stone noted. With that in mind, and with the addition of new markets and products, “I’m optimistic about getting a lot more distribution,” he told TWICE. Cellular carriers, he noted, “are a distribution channel.”
The launch of mobile-ATSC service by local TV stations could also lift FLO TV adoption by raising awareness, Stone said. “People don’t know there are devices that can get broadcast TV,” he said. Most consumers are accustomed to TV-over-cellular services, whose quality he called wanting.
Qualcomm launched FLO TV service two years ago with Verizon Wireless and later added AT&T. The company said it remains on track to reach its previously announced goal of 107 markets by the end of the year. Many of the new markets, however, would have gone on-line sooner had it not been for the U.S. government’s decision earlier this year to push back the analog cutoff to June 12 from February 17. Had the cutoff occurred as originally planned, the subscription service could have been available in 78 markets by the end of March, the company said.
After this year, “it is our plan to continue to extend our reach, and we plan to cover locations adjacent to major market cities not already covered,” a spokeswoman said. “We will expand coverage into towns with ski and beach resorts not already covered,” she added without being more precise.
As part of the current expansion, Qualcomm added three new markets in early April and expanded its footprint in 16 other markets after UHF stations there got FCC permission to turn off their analog signals before June 12. The additional markets, combined with an expanded footprint in 16 other markets, deliver 10 million more potential viewers, the company said.
The three new markets are Atlantic City, N.J.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Wilmington, Del. The markets with the expanded footprint are: San Antonio and Austin, Texas; Baltimore/Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Dallas, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; the greater Los Angeles area; New York City; Oklahoma City; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; Pittsburgh and Reading, Pa.; and Portland, Ore.