Translation Please: Cable And The Mobile Future

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Let’s say the digital-TV transition for broadcasters did happen this week. Stations around the country turned off their analog feeds. Digital became dominant for them, too.

Sooner than later or later than sooner, the time will come when the broadcasters’ transition is yet another digital mile marker — just like that moment in time when Dec. 31, 1999, was about to roll over to Jan. 1, 2000, and we worried (pointlessly, as it turned out) that “Y2K bugs” would invade our electronic gardens.

When the transition becomes a past-tense event, broadcasters will own extra digital bandwidth. This means they can do more digital stuff — just like everyone else in the video-distribution food chain.

As broadcasters lose an analog video channel, they gain a data channel. Digital video becomes an application running on that data channel.


That’s the setup for the subject of this week’s translation: the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a grouping of 800-plus commercial and public broadcasters working on a new way of delivering free (read: ad-supported) TV.

The new part: Sending digitized, broadcast video to things that can move (as opposed to things that can only hang on the wall, or sit on a stand). The other new part: No need to hitch a ride on existing mobile-carrier networks.

Broadcasters, after all, are the original wireless. Now they’re goin’ mobile.

The work of the OMVC began at the 2007 National Association of Broadcasters show. It then showed up in introductory demos at last year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, in the LG Electronics booth.

Harris provided the transmission gear; handhelds, portable displays and laptops displayed shows from two local Las Vegas stations.


This year: Way more channels, way more handhelds and heavier competition. Broadcasters who deploy a mobile video offering will go up against cellular carriers, like Verizon Wireless’s V CAST.

Then there’s Google, with its Open Handset Alliance Project, and its Android open-source mobile platform. And let’s not forget the cable-backed Clearwire effort.

But here’s another way to look at it: If nothing else, broadcasters are the devil you know. The OMVC specification, for instance, includes a placeholder for conditional access. That means there’s room to protect content, on multiple channels, on a subscription basis.

Ring any bells?

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