When industry outsiders introduce a new technology, futurists prostrate themselves before its transformational potential, and established industry leaders relegate it to hobbyist status. But, eventually, the new technology not only becomes the new status quo, it changes the cultural landscape in ways no one could have imagined.
Mobile TV is the latest new kid on the block, and the concerned players — carriers, broadcasters, content owners, mobile device manufacturers and advertisers — accept how this new technology might disrupt others' business models, all the while fiercely arguing for the centrality of their current role in the food chain.
But while industry mandarins wrestle each other, two new players with a very different POV, the open source and open handset developer communities, are barging into the ring.
At eComm 2009, Francois LeFebvre, project leader at Communications Research Center Canada (CRC), previewed the disruptive possibilities. In “Mobile Digital Broadcasting: Democratizing Innovation,” LeFebvre demonstrated CRC's Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting (MMB) transmitter software (running on a commodity laptop) broadcasting to an Openmoko handset equipped with the CRC's Openmokast mobile TV receiver.
"An important challenge in many markets is the convergence of telco-driven and broadcast-driven services," LeFebvre said. "When we talk about mobile convergence, we forget that broadcasting is part of mobile convergence. This specialized infrastructure is at the head of the long-tail, very large audiences.”
"We believe that the real challenge will be to fund the deployment of reliable and strong mobile broadcast networks, and new applications emerging outside the typical realm of telcos and broadcasters will be key," he said. "For this reason, open source mobile phone platforms could be a very effective approach to drive the deployment of mobile broadcast networks."
Introduced at IBC in 2006, the preconfigured, “one click" MMB transmitter software includes a multiplexer, real-time DAB software modulator, receiver manager software, real-time and offline DMB video and audio encoder, digital wave player for direct playback and a test system.
The software runs on an off-the-shelf PC, so "with very cheap hardware, you have a low-cost broadcast transmitter," Lefebvre said.
The Openmokast handset software supplies receiver control, service announcement decoding, demultiplexing, dispatching, decoding and presentation. The Openmoko Neo Freerunner handset, manufactured by Taiwanese FIC, not only includes an open software stack, everything about it is open from the schematic up.
The Openmokast architecture lets developers directly access raw bit streams — something they can't do with conventional TV-enabled handsets, whose feature sets are controlled by manufacturers and carriers.
One example of where this democratizing can go was the protest in Seoul, Korea, last June against U.S. meat imports, where citizen reporters created their own parallel news media. Another harbinger of the future is Japan and Korea's "broadcasting jockeys," who have created 1.5 million private online TV channels.
This alternative to mainstream media "may not have found a business model," said Plus 8 Star CEO Benjamin Joffe, in his eComm talk, “Asia's Best of Breed,” "but the technology has found acceptance." Acceptance from users, that is.
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