Broadcasters try, try again with mobile TV

Broadcasters have been looking for a carrier guinea pig to test out their mobile digital TV service, and on Wednesday they found one. MetroPCS (s PCS) has agreed later this year to sell a Samsung Android phone embedded with an Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) chip, which will pluck digital TV signals directly from the broadcast airwaves.
The ATSC standard is backed by Mobile Content Venture, a consortium of TV networks FOX, ION Television, Bahakel, Univision, Telemundo and NBC as well as 15 broadcast groups that run local TV stations. The venture’s aim is to broadcast live feeds over spectrum already allocated for DTV, rather than stream individual video feeds over mobile broadband networks or rely on a separate digital broadcast service like Qualcomm’s ill-fated FLO TV. A special app called Dyle will render the live programming on smartphones. To quote the MVC’s press release:

We are thrilled to work with MetroPCS to make live broadcast TV available to mobile consumers. This collaboration allows Dyle to take the first step in realizing the broadcaster vision of live, local TV on every smartphone.

Every smartphone may be a bit of stretch since MetroPCS, while not tiny, isn’t exactly Verizon Wireless (s vz)(s vod). Metro’s footprint is limited to 14 major markets, but the MVC is hoping to use the regional operator as a launch point for a larger nationwide expansion, one that it hopes will include the big four national operators. There’s still a big question as to whether those operators are interested. Dealing with Qualcomm’s competing service FLO TV wasn’t exactly a cake walk for AT&T (s T) and Verizon, which had to procure FLO specialty handsets that they could only sell in markets where FLO offered service. Plus with new big honking LTE networks going up, those operators have their own video plans – plans that don’t involve sticking to the set programming schedule printed in TV Guide.
But the MVC may make operators sweetheart offers they can’t refuse. Broadcasters have an ulterior motive in getting something resembling a commercial video service up and running before regulators come after the TV airwaves. Ultimately, broadcasters may not want to be in the mobile TV business, but they don’t want to part with valuable frequencies either. The MVC and MetroPCS didn’t reveal any of the financial details on the service or device, but the deal likely favors Metro.
The operator has trouble enough procuring inexpensive devices for its unique blend of radio technologies and frequencies without adding a DTV chip to its handset costs. Whatever Samsung device comes out of this deal, it’s got to be cheap, otherwise it wouldn’t work with Metro’s prepaid unsubsidized handset business model. That means someone else has to foot the extra expense of putting a TV in the phone.