The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) today announced that it has elevated its mobile Digital Television (DTV) candidate to standard status. Now that sounds like a mouthful, but what it really means is that digital broadcasters are one step closer to being able to launch free-to-air mobile TV. Proponents of the standard include handset manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, as well as MobiTV, among others. While still a ways off from being a reality, 2010 at the earliest (as broadcasters are not required to move to digital broadcasting until February 2009), the move by ATSC paves the way for device manufacturers and broadcasters to work toward test devices and services sometime next year.
Now, I’ve questioned consumers’ willingness to pay for mobile TV services, so the concept of free is compelling. However, the challenges in getting these services to market are numerous. First, distribution is a challenge, particularly seeing that wireless carriers still tightly control mobile device distribution. Many of these carriers are trying to hawk their own, premium mobile TV services, so including devices in the mix with free-to-air capabilities is not necessarily in their best interest. Although, maybe by the time these services come to fruition, their tunes will have changed (new form factors, more open distribution models, etc.). Second, the length of time it takes to build scale and an installed base of capable devices can’t be underestimated. Third, then there is the challenge of building and delivering compelling services to the mobile device. And, finally what will consumer demand really bear? Free makes it more interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers will tune in.