63 channels and nobody watching (to see that there's nothing on...)

POSTED BY Global Administrator
And so we say a big hello to ATSC Mobile.

In case you’re wondering, this is the 347th (I exaggerate, but only slightly) mobile broadcast TV standard to hit the airwaves.

Press reports indicate that the local TV stations in Washington DC will begin broadcasts using the standard – a handheld version of the US digital TV technology – in late-2009. The free-to-air broadcasts will replicate those of terrestrial TV, and will include channels from CBS, NBC and Fox.

The medium-term plan – as outlined in January by the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), the broadcasters’ mobile TV umbrella body – is for broadcasters to launch services across 63 stations in 22 US markets by the end of 2009, covering 35% of its population.

But while it may cover 35% of the US population by this time, my estimate is that these channels will be capable of being accessed by rather less than 1% of its mobile handsets by this time.

The problem is that, at present, there isn’t a single handset commercially available that can receive ATSC signals. LG recently demonstrated ATSC on Lotus and Voyager prototypes at the CTIA show - but hasn’t said whether ATSC will feature on the handsets when they hit the stores. This lack of handsets is partly due to the fact that ATSC is almost an embryonic standard: it has even been officially ratified yet.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm’s subscription-based mobile TV service, MediaFLO has struggled to gain a critical mass of viewers. The company wasn’t helped by the FCC decision earlier this year to postpone the digital switch-off, and while Qualcomm launched in three new markets at the start of April (taking the total to 68), neither of the two carriers which offers the service (AT&T and Verizon) has released any details on service subscriber growth: never a good sign. MediaFLO USA’s new President, Bill Stone, recently admitted his disappointment at the US government’s decision.

And now Qualcomm faces an ATSC challenge. Which, unlike MediaFLO, will be offered free to air.

Still, Qualcomm has one major plus on its side. At least, unlike ATSC, it has handsets…