Streams of Thought: What We Can Learn From Broadcasting

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While the streaming industry likes to think of itself as the answer for over-the-air (OTA) broadcasters' legacy solutions, the fact is that we can gain a significant amount of insight from the tried-and-true methods of OTA broadcasters. I'll touch on just a few of them here.

Availability at all times is key. There were times this winter when power or service outages eliminated the internet delivery of content. In my local market, the websites of the top two regional papers, The Kingsport Times News and the Johnson City Press, were knocked out for several days when a fast-moving storm killed power to the newsroom where the servers were housed. By contrast, another local paper, owned by a television broadcaster kept its website up despite high traffic, due to the simple fact that the broadcaster, had a contingency plan in place.

Fewer platforms mean fewer opportunities. The advent of the Advanced Television Systems Committee's (ATSC) standards-based mobile digital television (MDTV or A/153), which was approved in 2009 and is expected to appear in consumer devices in April, means that free OTA television will once again be available in a portable form factor, akin to the early transistor-based portable TVs, but with a clean digital signal.

The ATSC/153 devices provide an opportunity to deliver key news updates to a populace that may not have the luxury of power or that may need portable news updates during times of disaster. While several broadcasters see the ATSC-based mobile television stripping away any market lead that FLO TV had in 2009, Bill Stone, CEO of FLO TV, sees it differently.

"My opinion is that we should partner with the ATSC to help drive overall adoption," Stone said after his keynote at Streaming Media West 2009. "Fast forward 5 years, and I think you'll see a similar model between free TV and pay TV, where we would provide the pay TV portion of the equation."

More platforms mean lower revenues. Despite the mobile industry's push toward a common applications platform, the fact is that the mobile handset platform world continues to fragment, as new platforms from Microsoft, Samsung, Symbian, and Google enter the market.

All of this means that streaming solutions have to be tweaked to be delivered on multiple unicast mobile broadband networks, while the OTA broadcasters are now able to provide both multicast mass appeal content and unicast on-demand content.

Doing so will also allow broadcasters to raise revenue targets based on the old, tried-and-true OTA advertising models. There's a lesson here. Is the handset a gateway to the home theater? If viewers have seen good HDTV from an OTA antenna, they'll understand just what a disservice the cable companies provide for their HD must-carry signals. The fact that

1080p is available on a $30 antenna hooked up to a middle-of-the-road flat-panel TV means that the lines are blurring between home theater and OTA television.

Mobile devices are going to have the capability to pass 720p and 1080p signals through to a larger screen, and it should come as no surprise that Symbian 3 now includes support for HDMI 1.3 output. This means that a portable device can be connected to a large screen for 1080p "home theater" viewing. And you thought cutting the cord to the phone and cable companies was a byproduct of Hulu and mobile voice.

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