Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ohio's Mobile TV Future

A host of TV station owner groups are banding together to create a much broader future for mobile digital television, and nearly all groups in the Cleveland market are involved.

From the first article about the joint venture of 12 ownership groups, courtesy of TVNewsCheck's Harry Jessell:

The groups: Belo Corp., Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc., Ion Television, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.

In the Cleveland market alone, that covers Gannett (WKYC/3-NBC), Scripps (WEWS/5-ABC), Raycom (WOIO/19-CBS and WUAB/43-MyNet), and ION (WVPX/23).

Fox affiliate WJW/8 is no longer owned by its network, having been sold to Local TV LLC. It's one of two commercial stations in the market not on the list - the other is locally-owned Winston Broadcasting CW affiliate WBNX/55. (Oh, and Univision's WQHS/61...but we don't speak Spanish.)

Groups like Cox and Media General are in other Ohio markets - Cox has CBS affiliate WHIO/7 Dayton and Media General has NBC affiliate WCMH/4 Columbus (formerly owned by NBC itself).

Today, again thanks to Mr. Jessell and TVNewsCheck, we know that the joint venture aims to do more than provide mobile-friendly signals of local broadcast outlets:

The 12 major TV station groups that announced plans on Tuesday to form a joint venture to pursue the mobile DTV business envision a national service of at least 10 mobile channels and possibly many more.
And what kind of channels?

...NBC and Fox have agreed to make their programming available to the joint venture. That programming includes broadcast network programming through their affiliates as well as cable networks.

NBC's collection of cable networks includes Bravo, USA Network, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC. Fox has the Fox News Channel and FX among others.

To us, it sounds like the old USDigital service retrofitted for 2010.

USDigital offered a lower-cost, smaller collection of cable TV channels using unused DTV spectrum. The service used a special converter (available at Wal-Mart). We never saw it in Ohio, because it didn't ever leave one or two test markets. We're not sure it even got out of Salt Lake City UT.

This venture is different, technologically, because it's riding on mobile DTV spectrum. ATSC M/H (mobile/handheld) is still being tested, and provides something current over-air DTV does not - a stream that can be easily displayed on the move, in a car, or in your hand.

The bandwidth, of course, isn't enough to support HDTV. But as we know from early experience, trying to catch a DTV signal from a moving car is currently pretty much impossible. Receiver technology has also improved dramatically since when USDigital was around, not even accounting for the mobile part.

This service won't bring cable networks to free broadcast, as far as we can tell. It sounds like a pay service much as described above. There is also talk of a "print" component, whatever that means.

We're presuming that the stations will still offer the mobile-friendly versions of their broadcast signals for free, but we can't confirm that from what we've read. We're also wondering if Fox, a participant offering the broadcast programming to the venture, will offer locally-programmed non-owned affiliates like WJW.

We could be wrong on any of this, and welcome corrections...


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