Modeo aims TV at gadgets, cars

Crown Castle's mobile TV subsidiary to launch live TV and audio services for phones, iPods, laptops and cars.

Crown Castle International said on Wednesday it plans to launch live television in several top U.S. markets this year and hopes to deliver video and audio services to a range of products, from cell phones and portable media players to laptop computers and cars.

As cell phone operators develop streaming video and music services, wireless broadcast tower operator Crown Castle and wireless technology firm Qualcomm are both building their own live TV networks that aim to complement mobile providers' efforts.

In 2007 Crown Castle said its newly renamed mobile TV subsidiary, Modeo, will expand the service, which will include about 10 video channels and at least 24 audio channels, to 30 U.S. markets covering about half the population.

It has not signed programming deals or named cell phone provider partners so far but said that four leading mobile phone makers, including Motorola and Nokia, will support the live TV technology it is using.

Crown Castle also said chip maker Intel and Kenwood, a maker of car radios and other consumer electronics, as well as Microsoft, which provides software to run the service, all plan to show it off at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.

Crown Castle also aims to have its service run on portable media players such as Apple Computer's video iPod device as well as laptops and backseat car video players.

"Anybody you can imagine with a mobile device, we've talked to," said treasurer Jay Brown, who noted that the service will allow wireless downloads of Internet video or audio files, known as podcasts, to store on mobile devices.

Brown said he expects combined video and audio subscriptions to cost about $15 to $20 a month and separate audio subscriptions would incur monthly fees of $7 to $9.

Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, which will demonstrate Qualcomm's MediaFlo technology at CES this week, are also expected to support the rival technology known as DVB-H, or Digital Video Broadcast for Handhelds, that Crown Castle will use.

Qualcomm, which aims to launch its MediaFlo service in October this year, has already signed up Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group, as its first mobile operator customer.

While developments in advanced mobile services such as wireless video are attracting a lot of attention, the jury is still out on whether consumers will accept them en masse.

Harris Nesbitt analyst John Bucher believes mobile TV may just appeal to high-end consumers who always want the latest gadgets and are willing to pay higher monthly fees.

"It's going to be top-tier users," said Bucher. But he considers that the services would be a success if roughly 10 percent or about 20 million U.S. subscribers signed up for wireless television.

"I don't think it has to go mass market to be successful," Bucher said.

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