Late last month, the Mobile Digital Television Consumer Showcase kicked off in the Washington, D.C. metro area. This four month experiment by local television broadcasters is intended to introduce consumers (as well as federal lawmakers and administration officials) to the benefits and convenience of Mobile Digital Television (Mobile DTV).
Nine metropolitan stations are broadcasting more than 20 separate channels. Programming includes interactive features such as polling and advertising feedback. The broadcasts can be received on certain cell phones, DVD players, and netbooks that support Mobile DTV, as well dedicated receivers. According to a press release from the Open Mobile Video Coalition, “hundreds of area consumers” will be asked to provide feedback through “daily diaries, market research, and feedback groups”.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I don’t think that this new service will gain much traction. Yes, we’re an active, mobile population and yes, current ATSC broadcasts aren’t designed to be received while in motion. (Just don’t tell my friend and colleague Peter Putman that you can’t watch ATSC broadcasts on a moving train.) But I think Mobile DTV is the solution to a problem that isn’t there. If people are driving, any screens are mostly likely in use for GPS or for DVDs or video games for the youngsters in the back of the minivan. If you want to watch the baseball game, you’re more likely to be sitting still at a barbecue in the park or some similar stationary location, at which point a battery-powered TV that receives ATSC should do just fine. And I don’t believe that there will be enough of an audience to make it worth it for the local broadcasters to deal with the reformatting and editing of the program content to fit a Mobile DTV format. And if people on the go do want to watch video, it’s more likely to be on-demand content, and the wireless broadband services let any smartphone get you all the content you could possibly want, when you want it, instead of having to wait for it to come around on a Mobile DTV channel.
Finally, the Baltimore-Washington area has a sizeable population with a string of local broadcasters. It’s not like most of the country, where the choice of broadcasters is far more limited. If nine stations are putting up 20 Mobile DTV channels, how many choices will a consumer have in a rural area that may be served by one terrestrial broadcaster, if any? Even 20 stations may not be all that satisfying to a consumer used to the hundreds of choices from their cable or satellite service. And with the advent of “TV Anywhere” options over the Internet from these services, won’t users be more likely to turn to the Web for their video content than a limited local broadcast?
So while Mobile DTV is an interesting experiment, I’ll be very surprised if there’s a huge spike in Mobile DTV devices in the Balto-Washington area this summer, or a hue and cry for its continuation after this demonstration ends.