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CES: Mobile TV face-off

A year ago, Samsung unveiled a version of digital TV broadcasting that was optimized for mobile devices -- think of viewers speeding along in trains, buses and cars, not just sitting in a park with a cellphone. At the time, it seemed like a nifty A-VSB solution was a sure bet for inclusion in the U.S. standard for digital TV. Since then, however, at least one other proposal (LG's MPH) has emerged to vie for support from the U.S. digital TV standards committee. Samsung has responded at the show by trotting out prototypes of a handful of mobile devices that tune in A-VSB signals as well as a new business model built around the technology.

The devices were an ultra-mobile PC, portable media players and a cellphone. The message there was that Samsung, at least, is ready to build a range of A-VSB gear for consumers to buy -- or rather, that Samsung is ready to integrate A-VSB capabilities into products that people are already buying. The new business model, meanwhile, was the work of a Samsung-led coalition of equipment and technology suppliers, including Nokia, MobiTV and satellite programming distributor SES Americom.

At a press conference here, executives said the coalition was bundling content and technology to enable broadcasters to deliver an interactive mix of local and national programming to mobile devices. Depending on how much of their airwaves they planned to use for high-definition TV, local broadcasters could deliver two to six channels of programming to mobile devices through A-VSB. Although some of that programming would be identical to the station's regular digital TV broadcast, broadcasters could also offer unique advertiser-supported and even fee-based services through A-VSB.

SES Americom isn't wedded to A-VSB, however; it has a foot in both camps. In fact, this morning the company announced it was helping a group of stations conduct trials this year with both flavors of mobile TV. Referring to the standard-setting body for digital TV, Bryan McGuirk, president of media and enterprise services for SES Americom, said, "We support whatever ATSC's choice is."

-- Jon Healey

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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