Coming Soon: 2 Ways to Watch “American Idol” On the Go

The Open Mobile Video Coalition said today that it will begin broadcasting over-the-air mobile television to devices in Washington, D.C., later this summer. Also today, Qualcomm (s QCOM), which operates a competing over-the-air television technology, said it’s licensed its FLO software to ProTelevision Technologies (formerly Philips TV Test Equipment). That means Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology could become available in more devices than the five or six cell phones that can currently receive the signal.
While both announcements are big news for competing efforts in the nascent mobile television industry, it hardly seems worth fighting for the current crop of mobile TV users, which is miniscule. The Open Mobile Video Coalition is pushing a standard that will allow broadcasters to extend their digital television signals out to devices traveling at rapid speeds, which would result in free broadcast television for phones, televisions in cars and portable televisions with a radio tuned to the appropriate signal. LG Electronics, Samsung and Dell (s DELL) are all making devices for the technology.
Qualcomm’s MediaFLO TV also requires a special radio and software inside the device, and users pay $15 a month to their phone company to receive such signals.¬† It’s unclear who a consumer would contract with in order to subscribe to MediaFLO on the alternative devices that could result from today’s announcement, but the relationships with ProTV could help expand Qualcomm’s potential market for its TV services.
While it looks like the battle lines have now been drawn between a free and a paid mobile television service, the content that the service can deliver could be the deciding factor. Qualcomm, for example, licenses content for its MediaFLO service from the content owner, but broadcasters so far are retransmitting content they may have created or that they have licensed from a third party. If those third parties decide they don’t want their content sent to mobile devices under the existing agreement with broadcasters, then stations pushing the OMVC service may end up showing local news. Or they could end up paying more for highly-rated television shows, then passing on those costs to users.