Local TV could spur mobile TV adoption

A new technology standard that allows cell phones to receive local broadcast TV signals could help finally entice consumers to watch TV on their phones.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

LAS VEGAS--Mobile TV may finally hit the mainstream when cell phones throughout the U.S. are able to access local TV for free.

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, an organization made up of consumer electronics companies, broadcasters, and mobile TV companies, has finished a standard for new chips that will allow mobile devices, such as cell phones, to receive broadcast TV signals. The new technology is already making its way into prototype devices and is being shown off here at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Samsung Moment and live local TV via DTV. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

Starting in March, broadcasters in Washington, D.C., will be the first to test the mobile DTV capability in a proof-of-concept trial with real live consumers. Several device makers, including Dell, LG, and Samsung are making products available for the test.

The devices for the test include a smartphone by Samsung, a Netbook from Dell, a portable DVD player from LG, and a mobile DTV bridge device called the Tivit that receives digital TV signals and retransmits it over Wi-Fi, making free local TV available for devices, such as the Apple iPhone.

Getting TV on mobile phones is nothing new. MobiTV already offers more than 40 channels of daily live TV from several networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Discovery Networks. It also offers made for mobile videos and video on demand clips to more than five million subscribers on more than 350 mobile devices. Its content is available on several wireless operator networks, including AT&T and Sprint Nextel.

A subsidiary of mobile chip maker Qualcomm also has a mobile TV solution. The company built its own mobile TV broadcast network called MediaFlo that broadcasts live TV to cell phones using special embedded Flo technology.

Watch this: Tivit Mobile TV Receiver

Even though mobile TV services have been available for at least five years, the services haven't taken off in a big way. One reason has been the cost. MobiTV charges $9.99 a month for 40 channels. And MediaFlo offered on AT&T and Verizon Wireless costs $15 for 10 channels of live TV.

Mobile Digital TV will likely be free, which could be enough to whet consumers' appetites for mobile TV and entice them to buy more premium content, mobile TV veterans hope.

"If consumers can get a little bit of local TV on their phones, it might hook them in," said Jay Hinman, senior director of product marketing for MobiTV. "And we can provide other content like ESPN or other kinds of service packs. And consumers can customize what they want to watch."

Hinman envisions MobiTV creating more flexible channel packages to go along with the free local TV that consumers will get on their phones. MobiTV is showing off its "mixed TV" solution at CES.

While mobile DTV may be free to consumers, broadcasters and wireless operators could still monetize the service by offering interactive and localized advertising. Because the handset will be getting local TV signals, local advertising can be sold in the video streams, just as local TV broadcasters sell advertising for their over-the-air TV broadcasts.

But because the video is going to a cell phone, the advertising can be interactive. For example, an advertiser could push a banner advertisement with local TV content and offer consumers the ability to click on the advertisement.

Even if broadcasters and wireless operators charge subscription fees for local mobile DTV, some experts still say that it could boost viewership simply because consumers are interested in live, local TV programming.

"When live TV was introduced in Japan and Korea, mobile TV viewing went up to 50 percent penetration," said John Godfrey an executive at Samsung. "That's a big deal. And it seems to suggest that with the right content, it has the potential to become a mainstream feature."