Tech You Need to See; Show will feature several demos of mobile DTV broadcasts

Broadcasting & Cable

1/9/12

AMONG THE TECHNOLOGIES being demoed at the 2012 International CES this week in Las Vegas, advances in mobile digital TV, audio systems and UltraViolet offerings promise to have a particularly notable impact on broadcasters in 2012 and beyond.

Mobile Digital TV

In the run-up to CES, about 120 broadcast stations in 46 markets have upgraded their facilities to offer mobile DTV signals, notes Anne Schelle, executive director of the broadcast-backed Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC).

“[2012] is the year when consumer services are coming to viewers,” she says.

To promote those launches, all the groups backing the technology— OMVC, the Mobile Content Venture (MCV) and the Mobile500 Alliance-will be active at CES.

Shortly before the show, MCV—made up of 12 major broadcast groups as well as the Fox, NBC and ION Television networks—announced that it had cut its first deal with a wireless carrier, MetroPCS, to offer MCV’s consumer Dyle mobile DTV service.

At the end of the third quarter of 2011, MetroPCS had about 9.1 million subscribers.

As part of the new deal, Samsung will introduce a mobile DTV-capable Android smartphone later in the year, which represents another first.

“Concluding a deal with the fifth-largest carrier and having the Dyle application for our consumer service preloaded on Samsung phones is a major step forward,” says Erik Moreno, co-general manager of MCV and senior VP of corporate development at the Fox Networks Group.

The companies are not revealing the cost of the service, pricing for the Samsung phone or exact timing for the 2012 launch. Content will vary by market, but in Los Angeles it would include Fox, NBC, ION, ION Qubo, Telemundo and Univision, Moreno says.

Stephen Jemente, product manager, digital media and location-based services at MetroPCS, says the carrier already offers subscribers VOD, which over-indexes in digital media consumption, and that the deal to supply live TV will help differentiate MetroPCS from larger carriers.

The agreement is also important for broadcasters because a carrier deal would eventually provide them with a back channel of 3G or 4G connectivity that would enable VOD and interactive offerings sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, the Mobile500 Alliance will be at CES demoing technology for a national service and a consumer app, says John Lawson, executive director of the group, which represents more than 70 broadcast stations in 32 markets.

During CES, one of the Las Vegas stations owned by Sinclair, which is a member of the Mobile500, will broadcast three mobile DTV channels with content from The CW, MyNetworkTV and Food Network.

In another notable demo, the station will be showing how emergency alerts can be delivered over mobile DTV signals. Looking forward, the Mobile500 group is also planning a beta launch of mobile DTV services in Seattle. Content for that trial has yet to be determined.

Audio

High-quality audio often gets short shrift in station upgrades, but that is likely to change in 2012, thanks to new government regulations and consumer demands for better audio on mobile devices.

Rob France, senior product marketing manager at Dolby, notes that new Federal Communications Commission rules mandating compliance with the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act by December 2012 will require content producers, broadcasters and operators to pay closer attention to audio levels at every avenue of the TV industry, from content creation to broadcast and multichannel distribution. “There isn’t just one spot in the content chain where you can address the problem,” France says.

At the same time, France and others note that broadcasters also need to improve the audio quality of content they provide to the Web and mobile devices. “If the content is played with audio levels used for TV on tablets with smaller speakers, typically the dialogue can’t be heard,” says John Griffin, senior director of online media at Dolby, which offers a number of solutions for maximizing the audio quality for different devices.

UltraViolet Blooms

As broadcasters and operators push to provide more content to more devices, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) is hoping to see significant advances in its UltraViolet initiative during 2012.

UltraViolet is an effort by DECE and its 75-plus members—which include Hollywood studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, multichannel operators, TV programmers and technology companies—to make it much easier for consumers to access content they have purchased on multiple devices.

Ultimately, the effort will allow consumers who have purchased a Blu-ray disc of a movie or TV program to access a digital copy via a cloud-based service on as many as 12 other devices.

DECE only began licensing the UltraViolet technology last July, and the number of titles available with UltraViolet rights to a digital copy is currently relatively limited.

However, that could change quickly in the coming months. “[2012] will really be the year when the number of titles would gather some significant depth and breadth,” says Mark Teitell, general manager and executive director of DECE.

For example, by the end of 2012 Warner Bros. is expected to offer UltraViolet rights on as much as 50% of its digital sell-through catalog.

The studios hope that making it easier for consumers to access digital copies of content on additional devices will boost their Blu-ray, DVD and electronic sell-through businesses.

The technology also opens up significant opportunities for multichannel operators and broadcast networks, Teitell notes.

“Having easy access to TV programming that people are passionate about on multiple devices will encourage the idea of building up collections,” he says.

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