Thursday, April 15, 2010

Local TV Stations in Venture for Mobile Programming

By Brian Steltser
The New York Times

Determined not to get left behind as television migrates to mobile devices, a formidable group of local television stations is forming a joint venture for what it calls a “national mobile content service.”

The joint venture includes the NBC and Fox stations, respectively owned by NBC Universal and the News Corporation; stations owned by Ion Television; and nine other local groups. The companies said they would contribute broadcast spectrum for the service.

Executives at the companies said Tuesday that they foresaw transmissions of live newscasts, local sports and other shows to viewers’ phones over the public airwaves, some free and some on a subscription basis. “Going forward, consumers are going to expect to be able to see events in prime time live and on the go,” said David Lougee, the president of Gannett Broadcasting.
But that vision is far from certain. It will require new computer chips in phones and new programming deals with distributors.

The stations argue that the broadcast airwaves are an efficient, one-to-many way to transmit bandwidth-hogging video streams to phones, contrasting it with the one-to-one way that wireless data is carried. But spectrum is a contested subject in Washington now, as the Federal Communications Commission seeks to convert some portions of the broadcast airwaves for new commercial wireless uses.

The announcement on Tuesday drew comparisons to Hulu, the joint venture among ABC, Fox and NBC on online video. The nine station groups — the Belo Corporation, the Cox Media Group, E. W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, the Meredith Corporation, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media — will be represented in the venture by the newly formed Pearl Mobile DTV Company.

Through a separate coalition, TV providers have already coalesced around technical standards for mobile transmissions, so groups like the one announced Tuesday will now push forward on the programming side.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the News Corporation, alluded to the mobile efforts in remarks to the Federal Trade Commission last winter, saying that “today’s news consumers do not want to be chained to a box in their homes or offices to get their favorite news and entertainment — and our plan includes the needs of the next wave of TV viewing by going mobile.” He said that his company’s newspaper content could be transmitted over the airwaves, as well.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 14, 2010, on page B5 of the New York edition.

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