CES Countdown #5: Are the world's digital plans killing mobile DTV?
Here's a very familiar theme for us every year: Despite not only manufacturers' own best efforts but also certain governments' own regulatory bodies to drive and even enforce industry standards, there's no one way to do digital mobile TV.
Despite the push from manufacturers, mobile carriers and government regulatory agencies, mobile digital television has failed to make an impact on the world like it did in South Korea.
There has been doubt about the viability of mobile digital television for years, and in 2008, we watched the different approaches of the US and EU toward hastening its adoption yield ultimately the same result. At CES last year, Ambassador and US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy David A. Gross expressed the US' attitude as more lassiez-faire, letting the market decide what format is best, and watching it go from there. European Commissioner for Information Society and the Media Viviane Reding, took the opposite stance, with the EC choosing which standard carriers would be best suited to use.
|OMVC in the USA|
|Scott M. Fulton, III|
Last December, the Advanced Television Systems Committee officially approved a candidate standard championed by a coalition forged by LG and Samsung. Now, real work on engineering the first wave of handheld TV devices for the US could begin in H2 2009.
What would those devices be? Although manufacturers still have dreams of selling some devices separately (thus the "H" in "ATSC M/H"), it's already very clear that if Americans want mobile TV, they want it on the devices they already own: namely, the handsets they're already using for their phones and mobile e-mail. That's a sensible choice; with certain notable exceptions, part of the "coolness factor" for many mobile users is the ability to have everything in one place.
Nokia's N92, which made waves in Europe in 2006, might have brought DVB-H to the US...if anyone was interested.
And would ATSC M/H just be television made smaller? Not exactly. Though there would be live, scheduled programming -- quite possibly what's already being broadcast on ATSC -- the Open Mobile Video Coalition is professing the need for pairing those signals with on-demand programming such as news, sports, weather, and traffic updates. Certainly, local broadcasters could be the best candidates to provide this information, as it would not only extend their brand recognition among viewers but open up new advertising channels for them. That would certainly beat the standard fare of music videos, movie trailers, and homemade possums-chasing-squirrels features presently offered to mobile phone users...without much success.
At that time, the US favored Qualcomm's MediaFLO, with the nation's two biggest mobile carriers, AT&T and Verizon, offering mobile TV based upon the standard. The EC's choice of DVB-H was rolled out by a number of carriers in Europe, with some notable exceptions, but neither has experienced the growth mobile DTV proponents foresaw.
With the US' digital television broadcast switch only a matter of weeks away, a sort of last-minute mobile DTV standard was completed by the Open Mobile Video Coalition, consisting of US broadcasters and South Korean manufacturers LG and Samsung. The OMVC's standard would be similar to those successful deployments in South Korea.
BetaNews will keep its antennae out for United States-bound, ATSC-compatible devices from those companies on the CES show floor next week, but we have our reservations about the strength of such showings this time around.
Mobile digital TV remains a multi-billion dollar market in potentia, and won't become a mainstream service for another two years, according to most analysts.
Earlier this year, Nielsen Mobile data estimated that only 2% of US mobile phone users are consuming mobile TV, while 36% of circulating handsets are capable of receiving broadcasts. Media analysis firm comScore reports from August placed non-unicast video consumption marginally higher at 2.8%. This type of video consumption consists largely of viral and user-generated content that users can watch as part of an existing data plan.
A 2006 survey of European mobile television users found that there were actually more former mobile TV users than active ones. Users stopped consuming mobile TV due to the cost, and the poor quality and reliability. Increasingly, users look to be stripping out the extra cost of a mobile TV package by accessing digested and user-generated video content on tried sites such as YouTube.