MDTV now appears unlikely to be free

For the past few years, I’ve been predicting that Mobile Digital Television (MDTV) would be the salvation of broadcasters, but I’m beginning to have my doubts. The broadcast standard has been agreed upon and portable devices are being made with the chip, but there are things taking place behind-the-scenes (or not taking place behind-the-scenes) that threaten the main competitive advantage that broadcasters would have in the MDTV space — that it would be free.

According to a new study from market research firm iSuppli that’s being reported today in Multichannel News, 17.6 million television systems for automobiles will ship in 2015, up from 8.2 million this year. That would seem to be great news for the MDTV future, but there’s a major competitor standing in the way.

For broadcasters, the major mobile TV play is being led by the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), which represents more than 800 local TV stations that plan to use the ATSC’s mobile digital TV broadcasting standard. The OMVC has lined up device manufacturers that plan to sell products that work with the DTV specification, and the group plans to launch a customer trial in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

Also hoping to crack the market is FLO TV, Qualcomm’s mobile television subsidiary, which has a deal with Audiovox to offer an in-vehicle entertainment system delivering live TV service through more than 12,000 new car dealers in 85 markets. FLO TV is currently available through AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless and via a Qualcomm-developed handheld device with a lineup of more than a dozen live channels, including CNBC, ABC Mobile, Disney Channel, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC2go and Nickelodeon.

The difference between FLO TV and the OMVC is that the latter is over-the-air via bandwidth assigned by the FCC and, therefore, free. Verizon’s V-Cast, on the other hand, costs $14.99 a month. So far so good for broadcasters, right?

However, The AP is reporting today that the whole idea of free TV is up for grabs, as the networks that provide the programming for broadcasters are increasingly looking for a revenue stream besides advertising.

That will play out in living rooms across the country. The changes could mean higher cable or satellite TV bills, as the networks and local stations squeeze more fees from pay-TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV for the right to show broadcast TV channels in their lineups. The networks might even ditch free broadcast signals in the next few years. Instead, they could operate as cable channels — a move that could spell the end of free TV as Americans have known it since the 1940s.

Good programing is expensive,” Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox, told a shareholder meeting this fall. “It can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenues.”

So if the people who create the programs want subscriber fees, that will certainly drift over to MDTV, and broadcasters will either have to come up with a system that pays for programming — and charge consumers for it — or they’ll turn the whole mobile television space over to companies like FLO TV. Perhaps there will be a combination, but it’s seeming less and less likely that broadcasters will be able to arrange programming combinations that will appeal to “free” MDTV. Programming wants to be paid, and if what Murdoch says is true, advertising won’t fill the bill.

If, however, broadcasters could persuade their networks to provide cable and other programming that would be broadcast for free via MDTV, this would seriously threaten the business model of the paid (such as in “cable”) portable TV industry and give local broadcasters a much needed breath of fresh air. I think advertisers would love it, and everybody would win. However, the more people like Murdoch bitch about needing that “second” revenue stream, the more doubtful a free MDTV with quality programming becomes.

We need to continue to watch this carefully, for the future of local broadcasting may be at stake.

R.I.P. Sandra Seich

Sandra Seich

Sandra Seich

My old friend and business partner, Sandra Seich, has passed away. She died Christmas Eve following a four year battle with breast cancer.

I met Sandra at a time of transition in my life. I’d left TV news in late 1998 and was searching for some sort of meaning to everything that was happening around me. Sandra had authored a fascinating personality study mechanism called ANSIR, A New Style In Relating. I took the test and was flabbergasted at how well it spoke to me, so I contacted her.

We formed a partnership, and I put my life’s savings into the company and became its president. We had a little B2C business running and ran into some investors from a business incubator in Huntsville, Alabama. They introduced us to others and soon valuations of $100 million were being bandied about. We changed the business model and built an advertiser-supported online community, based on personality. When the bubble burst three years later, we lost everything. Had they had the courage to stick it out, we’d have been a hybrid of eHarmony and MySpace. Sigh.

Sandra was a genius by most definitions. She could read people at the age of 10. It’s a shame she never got the recognition she truly deserved for that. Who knows? Perhaps someone will pick up the mantel and move forward with it. Like all geniuses, she had her edge, but that was a small trade-off for the knowledge she intuitively possessed. Her book, The 3 Sides of You, is still available via Amazon.

Sandra taught me much, and while our parting wasn’t under the best of circumstances, I have always bragged about our friendship when the subject came up. I learned about people from Sandra Seich, and I use that knowledge even to this day.

Rest in peace, Sandra, and may God hold you forever in His loving arms.

Verizon beds Bing. Must have been drunk!

Add my name to the growing list of Verizon customers who are VERY unhappy with the company’s holiday “gift” to everyone — exclusive search for Microsoft. According to many reports, Microsoft and Verizon have reach a $500 million deal that includes, among other things, exclusive search access to millions of Verizon smart phones, including my Blackberry Tour.

On Saturday, a Bing icon appeared on my start page. I did not ask for this. I did not want it. Moreover, gone were the options for Google and Wikipedia via the Blackberry browser icon. (UPDATE: Google is still my default search under the browser).  All of this happened without my knowledge or my approval.

The comment thread at Crackberry.com is now 51 pages long.

You  know, I really have nothing against Bing, but I have a serious problem who try and force things on me, when technology is moving in exactly the opposite direction. I am a loyal Google user, and while I can still use it via the browser, Verizon has put Bing on top. This is a bone-headed move that was done in the name of cash and will return to haunt Verizon downstream. There is just no way this can end well for what has been my favorite carrier.

Aesop’s goose has, once again, been slain in the name of profit. Sigh.

History preserved: a gift of the Web

I sit with my laptop every day, amazed at this thing we’ve created called “the Web.” How did humankind survive without it? Future generations will take its connectivity for granted, and future wars will be fought here. It is pure artificial intelligence and beyond, because it’s learning every time we add something or associate one document with another.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve learned something else about the Web: it’s preserving history on many, many levels, including my own, and that has ramifications, both good and bad, for tomorrow.

From time-to-time, old memories will slip into my head, and I’ll head to the Web to see what I can see. Over the past couple of days, I’ve found some things I thought were long lost: evidence of my days as a surfer on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. That’s right, Lake Michigan.

It was the summer of 1964. The Beatles had just invaded America and the most popular U.S. band was The Beach Boys. Vietnam was escalating, and it was a crazy time. I had hooked up with a couple of guys in Grand Haven, Michigan, and one of them, Terry Laug, had surfboards in his garage.

In searching for Terry a couple of days ago, I found a treasure trove of information about an organization I helped form, the Great Lakes Surfing Association, GLSA. Sandhillcity.com contained photos, newspaper articles, and the fundamental history of the organization.

Here’s Terry’s GTO. That’s my board on the right.

GTO

This picture is from when a group of us went to the Upper Peninsula and drove the entire coast of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in search of waves. It was a real “surfin’ safari.” That’s my 1959 Volvo in front. I’m the guy with his left hand on his hip. It’s an old newspaper photo from the Grand Rapids Press, so the quality sucks, but I remember that whole trip very well.

surfingsafari

GLSA logo

GLSA logo

I designed the logo for the group and apparently functioned as a spokesperson (who knew?), per this quote in the July 18, 1965 edition of the Grand Rapids Press “Wonderland Magazine:”

Most of the Great Lakes group uses a square back tail board instead of a pointed one to get the biggest ride from the smaller Lake Michigan waves, explains Terry Heaton, spokesman for the group.

We don’t need those 20-footers like they have in California to have fun,” he pointed out.  “We’re happy with six-inch ones.  That’s all that is really needed to get a push.”

As happy as this makes me to find all this old material that I had thought lost, it gives me pause as I think about tomorrow, for all of our deeds — whether good or bad — have the chance of being preserved for all time on this glorious creation of ours, the World Wide Web.  And while I find that thought somewhat disconcerting (do we really want EVERYTHING preserved?), it may, over time, result in a odd form of governor for our culture. The West has lost its internal governor, so perhaps an external one like this is inevitable. Of course, the question then becomes, who controls the governor?

Those will be thoughts and issues for another generation. As for me and mine, I’m just enjoying being a part of the first generation whose early memories are being preserved. Our history — my history — is being preserved right before my eyes, and I am thankful and amazed.

The Four Opportunities of 2010

Each year for the past seven, I’ve gazed into the old crystal ball for what lies ahead in the coming New Year, and I like to think I’ve been more right that wrong in such prognostications. But prophecy is a dicey game, and I make no promises that my vision is any clearer than anybody else’s. That will be up to you.

I see four themes that will dominate local media next year — for those who are smart and in the know. We’re going to see more newsrooms becoming Web-centric. Media companies will increasingly get into the data business. Smart companies will elevate the brands of their employees — in some cases over their own — in the quest to find relevance in the world of personal media. And Mobile efforts will include those that enable commerce apart from our brands.

The Four Opportunities of 2010

And while I’m at it, let me repeat my pet peeve about our new millennium, because we have the chance to do something about it next year. It’s twenty-ten, not two-thousand-ten. It wasn’t one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine, and it never should’ve been “two thousand.” Sigh.

All the best from the team at AR&D. See you in the new year.

Anybody could do it”

“If some director from some country can achieve this just uploading a video to YouTube, it obviously means that anyone could do it.”

Remember that statement, because it will become the new mantra of YouTubers of all stripes. It’s a quote from Fede Alvarez, a Uruguayan film maker who uploaded a 4 1/2 minute science fiction original to YouTube and almost immediately got a $30 million contract from Hollywood, according to the BBC.

I uploaded (Panic Attack!) on a Thursday and on Monday my inbox was totally full of e-mails from Hollywood studios,” he told the BBC’s Latin American service BBC Mundo.

It was amazing, we were all shocked.”

Here’s the video. It’s had over 1.5 million views since being uploaded on November 9th. Amazing, and it proves, once again, that the pathways to success in media are being disrupted.