Will a new standard enable Mobile Video to take off in the U.S.?
For several years, mobile video has been promised as the next big wireless market segment in the U.S. Indeed, mobile video has gained a foothold in Asia, with South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan leading the way. Between 2008 and 2014, the number of customers using mobile video services in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to jump fivefold to 534 million, according to Pyramid Research. But despite efforts by MobiTV (working with mobile carriers) and Qualcomm (Flow TV/ MediaFlo), mobile video growth has been less than stellar in the U.S. This is probably due to a combination of factors, including mobile network service limitations (especially bandwidth and QOS), a very complex ecosystem, tiny screen sizes on hand held devices, and high monthly subscriptions for mobile TV offerings.
A New Standard Emerges
A new mobile video broadcast standard may change that. With the recent ratification of the A/153 ATSC Mobile DTV Standard, U.S. broadcasters are now able to deliver live video content to a wide variety of mobile devices. The standard is built around a robust transmission system based on VSB modulation, with enhanced error correction and other techniques to improve robustness and reduce power consumption in portable receivers. The transmission system is coupled with a flexible, extensible IP-based transport system, MPEG AVC (ISO/IEC 14496-10 or ITU H.264) video, and HE AAC v2 audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) coding. The ATSC Mobile DTV standard is the culmination of a development process that took about two and a half years.
The ATSC Mobile DTV standard was devised for mobile phones and handheld devices, in part because watching TV on handsets has become common in parts of Asia. But so far, no wireless carrier in the United States has agreed to sell a handset with a tuner that can use the new standard (see Opinion section below for one scenario). Targeted devices for mobile DTV include not only mobile phones, but also other handheld devices (including Mobile Internet Devices or MIDs) and in-vehicle entertainment systems.
The Mobile Video Coalition, a group of more than 800 broadcast stations supporting development of mobile DTV, released a statement congratulating the ATSC for its standardization efforts. “With adoption of the ATSC Mobile DTV Standard, small-screen versions of [broadcasters’ HD] programming and other services also will now be available over mobile devices,” said Brandon Burgess, president of the OMVC and CEO of ION Media Networks. The Coalition said that at least 70 stations would begin broadcasting using the standard. In contrast with mobile network operators, which must to pay the U.S. government for licensed spectrum, broadcasters are able to use spectrum for mobile video services that was essentially given to them at no cost for fixed video broadcasts to television sets.
According to the Coalition, new mobile DTV services based on the standard might include: "emergency alerts that can be customized by market or location, live audio feeds, data-casting with traffic maps, closed captioning, ‘clip casting’ sports and news highlights that could be stored in memory on a device, ‘push’ video-on-demand for future viewing, time-shifted television, mobile digital video recording, interactive polling, electronic coupons, targeted advertising, [and] an electronic service guide for ease of tuning."
David Donovan, President of the Association for Maximum Service Television said that adoption of the new standard will allow local broadcasters to advance efforts to deliver local TV news and entertainment to viewers, said “Today marks the beginning of a new era in digital television broadcasting,” he said in a statement. “Not only will this provide a new venue for watching local news and sports, it will crate a critical platform for emergency communications.”
Availability of Devices and Components
Several electronic device and PC makers, including Samsung, LG and Dell, have produced prototype devices, according to the NY Times. An ATSC mobile video receiver is first likely to be available on netbook computers, according to a report in Broadcasting and Cable. Korean conglomerates Samsung and LG have already announced “low power” components that will support the new mobile DTV standard
Time frame for market liftoff?
Some observers now believe that mobile TV in the U.S. will really take off in 2010. Broadcast Engineering magazine (http://broadcastengineering.com/RF/will-pc-mobile-screens-displace-living-room-tv-set-sports-viewing-1019/) asks if mobile TV screens will eventually surpass living room screens?
Only television station licensees have the infrastructure to deliver Mobile DTV to the public. That means that TV stations control the pipeline and they alone can deliver free, over-the-air Mobile DTV to consumers. The stations themselves will be able to monetize content that they create, but it also creates unlimited opportunities to partner with other content creators who want to reach the American public on the move with their new mobile devices. Another alternative (to be explored in a future article) is for TV broadcasters to partner with 3G/4G mobile operators to offer a combination of Mobile TV/VoD and Internet Video, using separate radios (one for each network).
"Mobile video is in the early stage of market adoption but the future of viable mobile video services greatly hinges on resolving technology complexities, effective management of ecosystem and enabling compelling business models. With the explosion of video consumption such as YouTube and advancements in mobile broadband and broadcast technologies such as WiMAX, LTE, ATSC-MH, DVB-H, service providers can now enable compelling mobile video solutions to the end-users with personalized interactive services. We see fundamental shift of control to end-users so they get to watch the content in a personalized way – what they want, where they want and when they want,” said Venkat Eswara, Director of Marketing, Applications and Mobile Video at Motorola, Inc.
Editors Note: Venkat presented at the STB 2009 conference earlier this month in San Jose, CA. Navin Mehta- Motorola’s VP of Global Business presented the STB 2009 keynote talk on mobile video.
Opinion: We think that a mobile WiMAX operator like Clearwire or one of its MVNO resellers (SPRINT, Comcast, TWC) could partner with broadcasters to offer a combination of Mobile Digital TV (using broadcast frequencies from about 400-700 MHz) and Internet video (using the mobile WiMAX spectrum, which is nominally 2.5 GHz in the U.S.). Other possible services include: streaming video- on- demand (e.g. news, entertainment or sports clips), a searchable network resident Personal DVR, and downloaded videos (most likely for notebook PCs with larger screens) that might be available from 3rd party content delivery based web sites. The provision of 3rd party video content is analogous to the Apple app store business model.
The key to success in this multi service mobile video scenario is for mobile operators to entice device makers to build handheld devices and netbook/ notebooks with multiple radios, e.g. a Mobile DTV receiver, mobile WiMAX (or 3G) send/receive, and possibly WiFi and/or GPS. We would especially encourage Comcast and Time Warner Cable to do this as they have lots of experience and know how with video content and VoD.
Mobile Video in Action
To get a glimpse of what this ATSC mobile TV technology looks likes in practice, check out this ViodiTV video from the NAB 2008 conference:
References for mobile video in the U.S.: