Almost 12 years to the day that WRAL-TV went “live” as the first commercial high-definition station in the nation, parent company Capitol Broadcasting unveiled Monday the first test of mobile TV technology in North Carolina.
“I thought it was about time we did something else,” said a smiling Jim Goodmon, Capitol’s chief executive officer, in a demonstration for Capitol employees at the WRAL-TV studios.
Utilizing a variety of mobile phones equipped with special chips and antenna developed by LG Electronics, Goodmon showed a live digital signal from WRAL that was captured and displayed in real time on the phone screens. WRAL launched its HD channel on July 23, 1996, and the mobile offering utilizes some of that digital spectrum.
The new technology, which was unveiled earlier this year at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, enables mobile devices such as phones, smart phones and laptops to display live TV. Called mobile pedestrian handheld, or MPH, a “tuner” chip captures and displays images even at speeds up to 75 miles per hour, Goodmon said.
Capitol will demonstrate the technology again Tuesday evening at a reception put on by the company, WRAL-TV and CBC’s New Media Group. New Media is responsible for WRAL.com and the News Over Wireless (NOW) division. NOW already works with more than 100 TV affiliates and three of the top five wireless carriers to deliver video on demand over cellular networks.
Just how phone companies will react to devices equipped with MPH remains unknown, Goodmon conceded.
“We’re going to really work with them,” he said of phone providers. “Our pitch is that we’re helping you. You don’t have to worry about using your very expensive network to support video.”
Sam Matheny, NOW’s general manager, pointed out in an interview how MPH could help wireless providers.
“Let’s say there is a breaking news event and people want to see it now on their phones,” he said. “There could be 50 people in this room alone making individual connections to a cellular network. With MPH, their network can be used for other things such as texting, voice messages and games.”
Matheny also stressed one statistic that demonstrates the potential market for mobile TV: “There are 110 million TV households in the United States. There are 250 million mobile phone users.”
The MPH technology utilizes broadcast spectrum licensed by WRAL-TV for its HDTV and other broadcasts. The signal mimics that of Channel 5 and is not available on demand. “We do not have the right to tape and broadcast content on demand,” Goodmon said of programs not created by WRAL. “What we do have is the right to broadcast live. That’s what we are doing.”
MPH also could include a “back channel” that would enable a mobile device to send data to the station. The channel could be used for interactive programming or shopping or other applications, Goodmon explained.
In an interview after the event, Goodmon told WRAL.com that he embraced the mobile TV technology as part of his strategy to make WRAL-TV ubiquitous regardless of device in the station’s viewing area.
“Our goal is to be on every platform,” said Goodmon, who has also been a pioneer for Internet, web, satellite and other broadcast technologies. “I’m betting on all of them. If the screen is a telephone, I want to be there. Whatever is the next platform, I want to be there.”
The first devices equipped with the MPH technology won’t be available for the general public until 2009 – the same year in which TV stations across the country are required to go digital and give up existing analog spectrum.
After the employees watched a demonstration that was taped at the broadcast convention, Goodmon proclaimed his own verdict on MPH: “This is really great.”