NAB 2010: Broadcasters Announce National Mobile DTV Joint Venture
A dozen major station groups team up for national service, aim to reach 150 million U.S. residents
By John Eggerton
A dozen major TV groups are teaming up to provide content and spectrum for a national mobile DTV service called Pearl Mobile DTV Company LLC.
Belo, Cox, Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Scripps, Hearst Television, ION Television, Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations, and Raycom Media will get together to form a "standalone joint venture," according to an announcement at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Spectrum for the service will come from the Fox, Ion and NBCU/Telemundo owned-and-operated stations, as well as the nine other groups.
The service will reach 150 million U.S. residents, said the companies, and content will include "live and on-demand video, local and national news from print and electronic sources, as well as sports and entertainment programming," according to the groups.
TVNewsCheck reported in December that Gannett, Media General, Hearst Television, Cox, Belo, Scripps, Ion Media, Raycom and Post-Newsweek had formed a joint venture called the "Pearl Project," which was seeking to use its scale to raise capital and cut deals with carriers, receiver manufacturers, retailers, programmers and advertisers.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of the FCC's plan to encourage broadcasters to give up spectrum for wireless broaband, but broadcasters are looking to pool and leverage their own spectrum to be players in the new media space.
"The venture is designed to complement the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) National Broadband Initiative by giving consumers mobile access to video content while reducing congestion of the nation's wireless broadband infrastructure," the companies said Tuesday. "In addition, the service's mobile content network will have the capacity to deliver local and national time-sensitive emergency information to citizens across the U.S."
"Local broadcasters are the backbone of the U.S. media industry," said David J. Barrett, President and CEO of Hearst Television Inc., in announcing the venture's official launch. "This sharing of content, broadcast spectrum, marketing resources and capital is unprecedented, and underscores U.S. broadcasters' commitment to bringing vital local news, weather, and emergency information to increasingly mobile U.S. consumers. This is a critically important initiative that holds great promise for our audiences and the television industry. This is truly the next generation of local television service."
"This initiative offers a path for the next generation of video consumption, and will help the FCC in its goal of ensuring efficient and reliable broadband service for US consumers," added John Wallace, President, NBC Local Media, in an announcement issued from the convention.
In a speech to the NAB convention earlier Tuesday (Apr. 13), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a shout out to mobile DTV and said he thought broadcasters would be able to provide that service and turn over some spectrum for wireless broadband if they chose.
Genachowski said it was a "myth" that the spectrum reclamation plan would kill mobile DTV.
"I'm pleased that the DTV transition has enabled the development of standards and the launch of market trials for mobile DTV," he said in his keynote speech. "Our job is not to predict innovation or business models, but to enable them. Under the incentive auction plan, broadcasters will be able to provide mobile DTV, both licensees that choose to retain all 6 megahertz, and those that choose to share."
NAB President Gordon Smith said Monday at the conference that some 150 stations will be on the air with mobile DTV by the end of the year. A trial of mobile DTV service is scheduled to begin May 2 in D.C. Smith said that test will help broadcasters' lobying efforts because it will "enable us to go to Congressional offices and show them the future." Smith also told B&C last week he was skeptical of the claims that broadcasters could do mobile DTV and give up spectrum.
Sandy Schwartz, president of the Cox Media Group, told B&C in an interview that other broadcasters have expressed interest in joining the current dozen members. He said he thinks the new venture, which is currently in the "memorandum of understanding" stage, is willing to take on some new members, but not right away. "Probably right now simply because what we need to do is get moving very quickly. The bigger the group is the more difficult it is to move forward."
He said there were no contracts in place with cellular carriers to put the TV tuners in their phones, but adds "I think we have gotten nothing but positive feedback."
He said that with the memorandum of understanding now in place, they would be "hard at work starting today" to hammer out the formal agreement in "the next several months." But he also said that he didn't think they would be waiting for that agreement to get things moving. "I think there are some things we can do while the lawyers are hammering out the definitive agreement."
"Mobile, and maybe the better word is 'portable,' is a fundamental premise for the future of our consumer behaviour and we need to be able to take our programming where consumers are, and this does that," David Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting, told B&C.
"We felt very much that this needed to be a massive play pulling together the best of national and local content bringing together the best of national and local content along with the digital distribution system that we have already invested in."
He also said that massive play should be the trigger for cellular carriers and tech companies to get on board. "I think now that we have this venture put together, on parallell paths to finalizeing the memorandum of understanding will be engaging with device manufacturers and wireless carriers."
Glen Dickson contributed to this story.