All signs point to Mobile TV really hitting it big this year; several initiatives, some spanning back several years, will be kicking in this year. Just like the gradual switch from analog to digital in traditional broadcast, the paradigm shift of mobile TV to the masses is ready to hit the fast lane. Three distinct targets are the focus this year, and the goals are to have mobile TV in more unique places than ever before (increase saturation), free up more OTA space for faster transmission and roll out unified branding so mobile-content producers can target devices while having consumers understand the capabilities.
Mobile TV in more places
This plan has been in the works for several years now, and although it has been slow going, this year could be the year that it finally breaks through. TV Everywhere was initially started by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, with the intent to expand programming beyond just via cable television. As consumers purchased more varied devices, content producers wanted to get their programming to as many people as possible. The problem is actually sitting down in front of a TV has dipped, while many consumers want their programming on the go. Cable saw the writing on the wall, in that if people watched programming via devices, often for free, their numbers would continue to erode.
The plan has been for the same programming to be wherever the person happens to be. But the more important part is missed revenue. Needham & Co. produced an analyst report that targets that TV Everywhere could grab an additional $12 billion in revenue for content producers. They also state that this could add almost $50 billion to the U.S. TV market (currently $330 billion) over the next half-decade. This projection blows the doors off streaming options such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, which take a hit in the form of high costs to procure programming. Companies such as Time Warner and Comcast already have secure arrangements in place to deliver channels, so it’s a low-risk-high-reward option for them. This year could be the year where the needle moves from TV most places to TV Everywhere. At least, the cable systems are betting it is.
Increases in mobile airwaves
We would not say that the days of traditional OTA channels are numbered, that day seems years away. However, they could be squeezed into a smaller slice if the FCC deems it to be necessary. A new payroll tax package was signed into law last month by President Obama, and one of its elements could have a dramatic impact on the future of mobile television. The new stipulation provides for a committee headed up by the FCC to oversee squeezing traditional OTA stations into a smaller amount of bandwidth to free up expanded room for faster wireless networks. Currently companies such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, which pump out millions of mobile TV hours per year, are feeling the squeeze of limited bandwidth. Eventually it will cap out just as consumer demand reaches its zenith. A solution has been proposed in that over-the-air may have more space than it needs, and trimming that unneeded amount may be just the thing to expand the wireless networks of major carriers. The rub is this has to be a voluntary decision by the traditional broadcast stations; they have to weigh the benefits of expansion against their own strategy of survival. Because more than 10 million households in the United States do not have access to cable or satellite, traditional OTA stations are not going away anytime soon, but it could provide some of its overage to spur wireless growth. The NAB will stand in as the referee in this matter, as it has been designated by the new law to provide guidance for OTA channels and ensure that it is a voluntary decision that no one is forced into. This is the year that the negotiations and decisions need to take place, so the switch can roll out in 2013. So, in an ironic twist, faster and higher-quality mobile TV in the future could very well be provided by concessions made by your local broadcast affiliate.
Up until now, it has been a free-for-all with mobile TV as far as what is designated as such and what features are included. This will be the year that the Mobile TV consortium Mobile Content Venture (MCV) will advance toward the important challenge of unifying and branding compatible mobile TV devices with the new “Dyle” designation. Right now, there is no unifying umbrella for identifying if a mobile product is indeed capable of receiving OTA broadcasts from local affiliates. MCV was formed to address these needs and begins its rollout (after much planning) this year. The organization is made up of 12 broadcast groups (including Cox, Gannett and Hearst) with the mission of spreading awareness of local TV for mobile and to allow consumers to identify products that are set to receive a local broadcast signal. Now, when a consumer sees a “Dyle” logo on a product, they know that there is built-in capability to receive local digital broadcasts from their affiliates. Currently, there are a host of various features listed and various descriptions on mobile device boxes, but this new initiative will offer new and improved unity combined with an ease of understanding for customers. Local affiliates are a big part of the future of mobile TV, and this transition will help ease it along. Once again, it often comes down to revenue, and there is huge potential for local advertising revenue once U.S. consumers adopt mobile TV broadcasts on their portable devices in large numbers. Units with the “Dyle” name will be capable of receiving and decrypting live mobile-TV signals, with no additional add-ons, for all local ATSC M/H DTV transmission. Companies such as Belkin are already prepping products with the new branding to ship this year. Research shows that mobile TV will advance with many firms targeting 30-million-plus ATSC devices out in the wild by 2014. The MCV is tightly focused on avoiding confusion and designating to customers what devices are capable of, which is more important than ever because there so many phone and tablet products being released from so many different companies. This new designation should spur adoption and focus on branding to ensure consumers know what they are getting — a device capable of receiving free local television. Content producers can dovetail with local broadcasters and advertisers to ensure that their products reach the masses even more this year.
These three targeted initiatives, while compelling on their own, should provide the needed momentum to make 2012 the year of mobile TV in the United States. Although many users are getting a flood of content via the catalyst called apps on various devices, more needs to be done on a unified front from companies, networks and content producers. Focusing on more mobile TV in more places, increasing speed and mobile channels, as well as finally tying this all into a branded umbrella that makes sense advertising-wise, will be the mission of mobile TV in 2012 and beyond.