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FLO TV Provides Lessons For ATSC Mobile


— Many factors that impeded FLO TV’s
consumer adoption aren’t factors that would hamper the
success of ATSC Mobile/Handheld (M/H) service, some
analysts and ATSC Mobile proponents contend.

But both services share the challenge of eye-time
competition from a growing selection of mobile video
sources that will likely grow further
with the rollout later this year of 4G
LTE service from Verizon Wireless,
whose CTO Tony Melone called
LTE, “very, very conducive to video.”
In addition, said Verizon Communications
president/COO Lowell Mc-
Adam, the carrier will offer “devices
for video” in the first half of 2011.

FLO TV’s challenges included
monthly subscription fees up to
$14.99/month for up to 20 channels
of national content, the high cost of acquiring dedicated
700MHz spectrum, and the costly buildout of a dedicated
nationwide broadcast infrastructure from scratch,
analysts and ATSC M/H proponents said. On the other
hand, ATSC M/H, also called Mobile DTV, doesn’t face
these particular challenges because it will initially deliver
TV stations’ current free over-the-air local TV broadcasts
to mobile and in-vehicle devices, consumers are already
familiar with local TV service, and local TV stations will
use their existing TV spectrum, eliminating the burden of
costly spectrum purchases and building dedicated infrastructure
from scratch.

“The costs were too high for what Qualcomm was trying
to accomplish,” said Anne Schelle, executive director
of the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a group
promoting ATSC M/H service.

Both services, nonetheless, face some of the same
challenges, some analysts said, including eye-time competition
from mobile video sources such as sideloaded
video played back on portable media players (PMPs),
movies downloaded to cellphones via Wi-Fi and iPhone/
iPod Touch apps that stream the Hulu and NetFlix services
via cellular and Wi-Fi.

Other mobile video competitors
include the Samsung Media Hub for
downloading purchased and rented
movies and purchased TV episodes
to Galaxy S Android smartphones
and the Galaxy Tab tablet. Another
is the longstanding MobiTV
live-TV and video-on-demand service,
which uses cellular airwaves
and requires a subscription but is
included free with Sprint’s Everything
airtime plan, said Ross Rubin,
NPD’s executive director of industry analysis.

MobiTV, which also offers video downloading, has 13
million subscribers in the U.S., a spokesman said. Subscription
fees vary, with 60+ live and VOD channels usually
offered by carriers at $9.99/month.

“The selection of content was strong,” Rubin said of
FLO TV’s direct-to-consumer service, “but outside news
and sports, consumers want much of their video content
on demand.” For content other than news and sports, he
added, there were less expensive alternatives, including
sideloaded video.

On the other hand, he and the OMVC point out that
ASTC M/H will differentiate itself from its eye-time competition
by offering free, local-TV content, particularly
local TV news and sports. FLO TV, in contrast, did not offer local content, and all of its content was

In addition, Rubin said, whereas consumers
might not want to pay a subscription fee to
watch a favorite primetime program that they
might not be able to view in their entirety, they
might use an ATSC Mobile device to catch 10
minutes of Judge Judy or news programs while
waiting on line or sitting in a car.

For her part, OMVC executive director Anne
Schelle called the demise of FLO TV “regrettable
since FLO was a pioneering service in
many ways.” But, she added, “the costs were
too high for what Qualcomm was trying to accomplish.”

With “the right combination of content, technology
and distribution, it’s been our experience
that Mobile TV can be a very good thing
that consumers love to watch,” she added.

The right content includes “the best of local
and national content” aired by local TV stations,
she said. “When people think of TV on the
go, they think of the content they get at home.
There is a very high interest in accessing the
very same TV programs.”

She pointed to the results of a recently completed
market trial in Washington D.C. with a
prototype ATSC Mobile-equipped cellphone.
Local news was the most-watched type of programming,
followed by reality TV and entertainment
news, she said.

Consumers during the trial also used their
TV-equipped Samsung Moment Android-based
smartphone to continue watching a program that
they had been watching on their home TV when
they left the house, Schelle noted. Viewers also
opted to record programming for viewing at more
convenient times via the phone’s internal memory.

A total of 150 people participated in the trial,
and about 63 percent used the service daily. The
consumers had access to 23 channels from nine
broadcasters, including about nine premium cable-
TV channels.

Local TV stations could supply a mix of free
channels and subscription channels, she noted.

Another advantage for ATSC Mobile is that existing
TV stations can extend their ad-based business
model to mobile devices and leverage their
existing programming time to advertise their mobile
service, Schelle said.

She also doubted that cellular carriers would
ever have the bandwidth needed to meet consumers’
demand for on-the-go video streaming.

For his part, NPD’s Rubin sees ATSC Mobile
making gains mostly as a value-added feature in
existing consumer devices such as PMPs, mobile
tablets, portable DVD and Blu-ray players, car video
systems, notebooks, and USB-dongle add-ons
to laptops rather than as dedicated handheld TVs.

Earlier this month, FLO TV, a subsidiary of chipmaker
Qualcomm, announced plans to shut down
its consumer-direct service, likely in the spring, because
of the slow adoption pace and the high cost
of marketing, customer service, product development,
and customer acquisition, a source close to
the company said.

No decisions have yet been made about the future
of FLO TV’s white-label service under which
cellular carriers Verizon Wireless and AT&T buy
the service on a wholesale basis for resale with
select handsets.