[opendtv] Broadcasters Cut Out of Convergence

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2006 10:44:53 -0500


Perhaps the ball is starting to move.

At least we are now seeing a major Broadcast publication tell it like it is.

Broadcasters are "forcing" the content conglomerates to bypass them; 
as a result they are finally beginning to understand why they are 
watching from the sidelines...


Broadcasters Cut Out of Convergence

January 19, 2006 12:00am
Source: Broadcasting and Cable

As the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and MacWorld Expo wound down 
earlier this month, the takeaway was that the long-hyped 
"convergence" between the broadcasting, consumer-electronics and 
computer industries had finally become a reality.

Hardware manufacturers at CES demonstrated a range of non-traditional 
devices for viewing television, from cellphones to portable video 
players to computers with digital-video- recording (DVR) capability. 
Internet companies, not setmakers, grabbed headlines with deals, 
including Google's plan to sell CBS programming through its new Video 

Over at MacWorld Expo, Apple chief Steve Jobs announced that iTunes 
had sold 8 million music videos and TV shows since mid October and 
that NBC will sell clips from Saturday Night Live  on the online 

What is unclear is the role broadcast stations will play in this new 
era, particularly in regard to mobile viewing. The mobile devices 
touted at CES all have a common thread: They don't rely on broadcast 
spectrum. Most of the broadcast networks' new video services aimed at 
computers or handheld devices are delivered via the Internet, usually 
through a cable company or telco, or over cellphone networks. And 
most don't offer stations a cut of the revenue pie.

"I was at CES, looking at these things, and it gives one pause," 
admits Clear Channel Television Chief Technology Officer Mike DeClue. 
"The broadcasters are definitely getting squeezed."

NBC and ABC aren't offering affiliates anything from their iTunes 
deals, but CBS has taken a different tack, sharing some of the 70% 
cut it gets from Google Video Store with the network's affiliates, 
according to a person with knowledge of the deal. Google gets the 
remaining 30% of revenues from sales of CBS shows at $1.99 each. (CBS 
is also sharing revenue with owned-and-operated stations in markets 
where it is offering video-on-demand programming through Comcast.)

Lynn Claudy, senior VP of science and technology for the National 
Association of Broadcasters, says broadcasters "should be 
uncomfortable" with the new focus on small screens and Internet 
video. While some stations are providing short news and sports clips 
through mobile-phone providers, and companies like Modeo and Qualcomm 
are developing systems that deliver live video to cellphones, Claudy 
thinks stations need to reach consumers directly. That may require 
broadcasting to mobile devices.

"For a broadcaster, the best deal is never going to be giving your 
product to someone else to distribute to their customer," says 
Claudy. "You want to use your own infrastructure. The future of 
broadcasting is more tied to the control of getting that signal to 
consumers than getting it to a headend or central office and getting 
a check."

That will be a challenge. The U.S.' Advanced Television Systems 
Committee (ATSC) digital-television standard was not originally 
designed to support mobile reception, which was one of the criticisms 
station groups like Sinclair Broadcasting leveled in the late '90s 
when they pushed for a switch to the European DVB digital television 
standard. The industry is still working to tweak the U.S.' VSB 
(Vestigial Sideband) transmission scheme to enable mobile reception, 
and a solution is several years away.


"In terms of reaching mobile devices with ATSC digital-television 
[DTV] signals, the short answer is, we are not there yet," says ATSC 
President Mark Richer. "The challenge is that we have to develop the 
solution with a certain level of backwards-compatibility so existing 
viewers can still get high-definition TV and other services."

In 2004, ATSC approved a standard called Enhanced-VSB that is 
supposed to allow digital reception under weaker signal conditions. 
The system allows stations to lower their data rate in exchange for 
making the DTV signal easier to receive. But Enhanced-VSB has yet to 
be commercially deployed, and ATSC is pushing for further 

In addition to improvements in receiver technology and video 
compression, U.S. broadcasters might need a different transmission 
architecture to support mobile DTV applications. Richer says some 
markets may have to adopt the European approach of using multiple 
small transmitters, all broadcasting on a single frequency, to ensure 
handheld reception.

Stations have already tried to make a business of transmitting 
content to computers through their digital television spectrum. In 
the late '90s, various station groups joined forces behind DTV 
"datacasting" concerns like Geocast that promised to deliver content 
to PCs, but those efforts disbanded as DTV receiver chips were slow 
to make it into PCs.


Capitol Broadcasting is still testing a DTV datacasting service in 
Raleigh, N.C., but has shifted its focus to providing content through 
cellphones with its News Over Wireless service (see B&C  Special 
Report, 1/2 issue). "For us, it's not an issue of 'Does digital TV 
data broadcasting work?'" says Sam Matheny, general manager of News 
Over Wireless. "It absolutely works. It's a matter of getting a 
critical mass of devices out there to receive content."

ABC isn't currently involved with any efforts to support datacasting 
or other ancillary services through the digital spectrum, says Albert 
Cheng, executive VP of digital media for the Disney/ABC Television 
Group. Instead, the network is delivering content to the broadband 
and mobile-phone platforms. Part of that is technical expediency, 
because there is already a large number of PCs and cellphones ready 
to receive content. The other reason is the challenge of reaching a 
datacasting agreement with more than 200 broadcast affiliates, which 
Cheng says is "like running Congress: Everyone has a different agenda.

"We want to do something national," he adds. "[But] we only own 10 
stations, so it's quite an effort to corral the different parts of 

One encouraging thing to come out of CES for broadcasters was the 
introduction of thumb-size DTV receivers that fit into the USB port 
of a laptop or PC. Such devices could help promote the delivery of 
DTV content to PCs. And as the downloading of Internet video becomes 
more popular, DeClue thinks it may overload existing broadband 
networks and force content distributors to look for new delivery 
channels. Who better to distribute a download of Desperate Housewives 
to 500,000 PCs in a market, DeClue asks, than broadcasters?

"There is already an overlaying mechanism that can distribute content 
really seamlessly, in an encrypted fashion, in a local market," he 
says. "That is DTV."

<<Broadcasting and Cable -- 01/19/06>>

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