03 February 2012
Mobile TV means a number of thing to different people, for people of a certain generation it means lugging the 14” portable TV into the garden with the required mains extension. Television to mobile devices (which is the now assumed meaning for mobile TV) has been around for years in different forms to varying degrees of success.
The first mobile TV solutions were using the normal analogue broadcast to battery powered small form factor TV sets. Digital variations of these devices still exist, but in these days of multi-use devices, the expectation seems to be that we should be able to watch TV on our phones / tablets etc.
Transmitting mobile TV to phones etc has undergone a number of difficult years. In Japan, their use of the ISDB-T standard with the provision for “one-seg” broadcasting for mobile devices proved successful. That coupled with the mobile phone standards used in Japan meant that specific handsets for the Japanese market would include this technology, so the end user could select from or shift between a number of devices. In Korea DMB (both the satellite and terrestrial versions) have lead to widespread adoption. In recent years, devices such as the iPhone which are designed to be universal, and as such have no TV reception equipment built-in, are starting to change the markets.
Within the western world, attempts have been made to introduce new broadcasting standards for mobile TV, such as; Mediaflo, DVB-H, DAB-V etc. These have all had test deployments, and in the case of Mediaflo a quite extensive deployment across the US.
Why are they no longer around?
There are any number of reasons why these broadcast networks are no longer around, some of these are content, handset selection and user acceptance.
For content, a limited subset of normal broadcast TV was available over each of these networks, so the user would not get a familiar environment, but instead a new experience where the program they wanted to watch on their TV may or may not be available.
Handset selection is a factor which should not be over looked. These days handsets are as much a fashion choice (some would say almost religious!) so if you needed to get a specific handset just to get this TV service, but it was not the same as your friends, or didn’t offer the same experience as you wanted, the TV service was not compelling enough. Unfortunately for the networks, this meant low sales of the handsets which were available, and then a lack of new handsets as manufacturers didn’t want to spend time / money adding in features which no one wanted.
Also the way consumers use their mobile devices has changed dramatically within the last few years. A few years ago there was debate as to whether or not people would watch TV or content on mobile phone screens. Today this is not a question as consumers watch You Tube, recorded content etc on phones / tablets etc.
Now we are in a situation again in the US where a new standard ATSC-M/H (M/H for mobile / handheld) is being launched. Will it be a success?
At launch there will be a limited number of phones with ATSC-M/H built in, but there will be dongles / accessories for the major types of devices (iOS for iPhone/iPad and Android) which can add the capability to existing devices. So the device question is less of a concern. However, as this is an after-market dongle for which the consumer will need to be convinced to hand over the hard end cash, content will be key.
Regarding content, as of mid Jan 2012, there are approximately 91 operating ATSC-M/H stations, with a similar amount indicating that they will offer ATSC-M/H in the future. This is out of a total ATSC broadcast market of more than 1500 stations. Service will vary from location to location, as will the users’ experience.
Of course there is an alternative; consumers could have their normal broadcast stations on their devices. There are a few solutions today that add a normal TV tuner to phones / tablets, giving the consumer the same channels as they are used to in that location. Obviously there are some limitations, such as content, signal issues etc. The content available using these devices is only the free to air content in that location, and only if you can find a decent signal. One of the selling points of ATSC-M/H is that it is designed to operate in moving cars / trains, where traditional broadcasts would struggle. Of course you need to have a joined up service where the ATSC-M/H station you want to watch is available over the course of the journey for this to be a real option.
To add to the mix, there are TV Anywhere / Everywhere solutions discussed in a previous blog. Providing you have a decent data network signal, then these offer a wider range of content than traditional broadcast.
So what’s next for Mobile TV?
TV Anywhere solutions will answer a number of the mobile TV questions, but not all. Broadcast mobile TV also has a place in the market, but why create new broadcasting standards when the existing standards work in the majority of cases. Could these existing standards be enhanced to offer more to the consumer ?? - Watch this space…
Dr Glenn Craib
Vice President Products & Services