Broadcasters Must Compete In Mobile TV Market, NAB Chief Says

Keep up with the latest developments and legal issues in the telecommunications and emerging technology sectors, with exclusive access to a comprehensive collection of telecommunications law news,...

By Paul Barbagallo  


Television broadcasters must seize the opportunity presented by mobile TV if they want to compete effectively in an ever-changing media market, Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said April 8 in his “State of the Industry” address at NAB's annual show in Las Vegas.

“For television, our future lies in our willingness to embrace new platforms, and to go where our viewers want to go,” Smith said, according to a transcript of his remarks made available in Washington.

His remarks come a week after a federal appeals court refused to shut down a service in New York City that uses tiny antennas to capture over-the-air broadcast signals that can then be streamed on the internet and viewed on a device of the customer's choice--smartphones, tablet computers, or internet-connected TVs--all without compensating the broadcasters.

The company selling the service, Aereo Inc., is just one a number of startups seeking to capitalize on consumers' desire for mobile content--music, games, graphics, video, and now even broadcast television.

In the wireless world, free-to-air mobile TV technology is said to be simple in design; with a tiny receiver chip and telescoping antenna, a mobile device can receive digital or analog programming like any other television.

A number of big television networks already offer mobile TV, such as News Corp.’s Fox Mobile Group, which began streaming TV episodes to smartphones for $9.99 a month in late 2010.

Last September, the Open Mobile Video Coalition also announced the launch of mobile TV services from 130 TV stations in 50 U.S. markets.

But such services are still not widely available in the United States from the broadcasters, and so far much of the experimentation with mobile TV business models has been on the paid side.

Smith said, however, that broadcasters must continue to respond to consumer preferences, namely mobility.

“Consumers want TV where and when they want it, but they also want it to be live and reliable when the game is on or during times of emergency,” Smith said. “It is my opinion that television broadcasting should seriously consider the challenges and opportunities of moving to a new standard, allowing stations the flexibility they need to better serve their viewers, compete in a mobile world, and find new revenue streams,” he added.

As part of his address, he also acknowledged the competitive pressure from non-broadcasters, though he stopped short of mentioning any by name.

“Our competitors in the wireless industry want to be part of the mobile TV business … and they are investing a lot of money in this endeavor,” Smith said. “They are even branding their service 'mobile TV.’ But our competitors will never have what we have--the ability to deliver our high-quality content reliably.”

FCC's Incentive Auctions Could Impact Mobile TV

The issue of mobile TV will reemerge in the context of the Federal Communications Commission's incentive auctions of spectrum, slated for 2014, in which the agency will try to reclaim airwaves now used for broadcast television and then auction them off to carriers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., with a portion of the proceeds paid to the broadcasters.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96), which authorized the FCC to hold incentive auctions, gave broadcasters interested in participating three options: contribute their full 6 megahertz allocation of spectrum, agree to share the same channel with another broadcaster, or move from UHF to VHF. Nearly $2 billion will be made available to compensate TV stations that choose not to take part in the auction and are then relocated to other channels.

As for one of those options, broadcasting engineers have said channel-sharing may foreclose the ability of stations to deliver mobile TV to phones, laptops, and tablet computers.

Request Tech & Telecom on Bloomberg Law