Mobile TV: Where's the business case?

The best answer to mobile TV might lie with broadcasters using their newly digitized technology to deliver a form of "free" over-the-air television to mobile devices rather than the early pay-TV over mobile phone services that, as Qualcomm seems to be learning with its FLO TV offering, are apparently non-starters with U.S. consumers.

While on the surface mobile digital TV might seem peripheral to cable, it is actually right in the industry's wheelhouse. First, broadcast over-the-air mobile could complement or compete with cable's fledgling WiMAX and Wi-Fi wireless services. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the broadcasters are using mobile TV to fight an FCC effort to take away 200 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband. If broadcasters indeed lose that spectrum, they will inevitably become dependent on cable for carriage. With the increasingly rancorous retransmission/must-carry negotiations between cable operators and broadcasters that's a scarlet flag for MSOs.

While a Wall Street Journal article details the difficulties of getting consumers to pay for "cable TV on the phone," as the original mobile TV approaches have been labeled. Mobile DTV from broadcasters, on the other hand, has potential according to Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition who dismissed Qualcomm's experience and asserted, "Consumers are highly interested."

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