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Mobile DTV Launches In Earnest

The first market-ready products for ATSC Mobile DTV— the new live-TV service for portables — will ship this spring, launching a technology that could turn free TV into a commonplace feature in portables, handhelds and car electronics, according to the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), which promotes the technology.

Mobile DTV differs from current ATSC TV broadcasts because it works well even in motion, so it can be used by pedestrians or by passengers in the car.

The service will permit owners of smartphones, car TVs and portables to watch (or listen to) “Good Morning America” while commuting to work, or to watch professional sports while at a child’s soccer game, for example.

Proponents say Mobile DTV will likely become a “must-have” feature in many portables because it is both free and live—two key attributes rarely paired together in a mobile service. “It’s going to drive the development of lots of devices. It’s conceivable to think any video-enabled mobile device could have a Mobile DTV chip in it,” said Anne Schelle, executive director of the OMVC trade group.

But 2010 will likely be a transition year as the service is gradually rolled out by broadcasters and consumer electronics suppliers begin offering products.

On the hardware side, devices will be ready this spring from leading brands including LG Electronics — co-developer of the technology and supplier of Mobile DTV chips. (See story at right.)

On the broadcast side, Mobile DTV has been commercially deployed or is under test review by approximately 40 broadcasters (out of a total 1,600), and several hundred broadcasters are expected to air the service by this time next year, said the OMVC.

At least 18 channels by seven broadcasters will switch on this spring in a Washington showcase trial, which will also include several hundred users of Mobile DTV devices. The showcase aims “to prove the system works and that consumers are really interested in having Mobile DTV,” said an OMVC spokesman.

In addition to offering standard TV fare, local broadcasters might purchase cable or other programming and broadcast it over the side channels permitted by Mobile DTV. So users might see programs from The Science Channel, or Discovery Kids. The technology supports tiered billing, so broadcasters could charge for premium service and still offer basic service at no cost.

During CES, 14 channels will broadcast Mobile DTV service in Las Vegas, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and The Science and Travel Channels.

The OMVC holds there is sizeable demand for Mobile DTV.

A recent OMVC commissioned study found that half of the consumers polled said they would buy devices with the new technology. Another key finding is that “Millennials” (age 18 to 29) are twice as likely to watch local news if it’s on a portable, while only 26 percent watch news at homeand 52 percent said they would view it on a mobile device. An OMVC spokesman noted, “Most people think young people aren’t interested in news. But it’s not the news; it’s the fact that it’s on a device they are not spending a lot of time watching because it’s tethered to a wall.”