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(By Preethi J and Nikhil Pahwa)

We wrote about Doordarshan’s tender for Mobile TV and its plans to cover 17 cities when it launches, but there’s more to it – DD’s experiments, DVB-H enabled devices, pricing and how Mobile TV is the organisation’s attempt to reach rural India through a new medium.

Receivers

It’s important to note that the Mobile TV service in question doesn’t necessarily pertain to TV being watched on mobile handsets alone. Mobile TV is a broadcast technology, much like FM and DVB-H refers to digital terrestrial TV that can be viewed on handheld and mobile devices – these could be your laptop or an LCD screen in your car or a public transportation vehicle.

The lack of DVB-H enabled handsets – particularly when compared to the availability of 3G enabled handsets – gives us the impression that this is likely to be a hurdle for mass adoption – users may not want to spend on a high end handset just to access this service on their handsets. We feel that early adopters are likely to prefer a USB receiver like the one Samsung planned. In either case, DD needs to ensure more choice and availability of receivers before launching, else its Mobile TV project will just be one long, failed experiment. It has a little over a year to do this.

The History

DD’s Mobile TV experiment began around 2006, when it tied up with Nokia to test DVB-H, reported Techshout. It was not commercially rolled out in early 2007, as announced. Business Line reported in 2007 that the service was being tested in New Delhi; supported handsets from Nokia and Samsung -were expensive at Rs 20,000 to 35,000! “The channels being tested were DD National, News, Urdu, Sports, and 4 regional channels. DD officials were given N92 handsets to test it out,” an insider told MediaNama on condition of anonymity. Then, N92 and N77 were the only mobiles by Nokia that supported DVB-H.

So what prevented DD from launching Mobile TV back then? According to our source, DD had begun the pilots when DVB-H was still emerging; it had the  spectrum and Nokia had the technology and handsets. “There were no hard constraints which prevent DD from going ahead,” he says. Inexplicably, DD decided to wait for a policy by the government that would offer clarity on the kind of technology; the number of players who would be allowed; the degree of private participation and the areas where private players would be allowed.

More Channels; Spectrum; MediaFlo

Currently, Doordarshan operates 33 channels including eleven regional languages satellite channels, eleven state networks and an international channel. According to current plans, it will transmit only 4 over Mobile TV, with the remaining 12 will be on a revenue sharing basis with a private partner. But will 16 channels suffice?

The DD channels will be broadcast over UHF Band-IV, which ranges between 470 to 582 MHz and can transmit 13 channels. DD also has access to UHF Band-V for HDTV transmission, which can transmit another 34 channels. So the problem is not of unavailability of spectrum – in fact, other broadcasters will have to wait for the government’s policy before they can launch a similar service. DVB-H itself may not be the best technology for Doordarshan – there’s DMB and MediaFlo (by Qualcomm).

Partners

In the EoI, DD has said it will partner with a private content aggregator who will also look after marketing, operations and maintenance. Previously, Shaf India was its implementation partner. Shaf was responsible in mapping Nokia’s patented DVB-H solution onto Doordarshan’s infrastructure to enable Mobile TV, we were told.

So Why Launch Now?

Doordarshan no longer has the kind of captive viewership that it once had, our source says, adding that the broadcaster doesn’t want to be left behind in the mobile TV race. Telcos such as Tata Indicom, Idea Cellular have launched content streaming over 2.5 G networks with content aggregators and broadcasters (UTV@Play); 3G is expected much before Mobile TV.

He adds that DD’s USP so far – exclusivity over terrestrial broadcasting – is more of a liability: “the technology is outdated and labour intensive. It is difficult to find people to maintain it. “Doordarshan does not want to miss the Mobile TV bus – particularly since it does have the infrastructure. The target audience could be rural India. Mobile TV is bound to get cheaper just as other technologies have in the past.”

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