Bill Stone probably shouldn’t admit this, but he spent part of his time during a meeting last week watching college basketball games. Then again, maybe that’s just good public relations, because he was watching via MediaFlo USA, the mobile TV service over which he presides.
Stone stepped into the role of president and executive vice president of MediaFlo in early February, not long after the federal government decided to delay the DTV transition, a move that caused MediaFlo owner Qualcomm to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.
Qualcomm had expected the DTV transition to take place in February as originally scheduled, so it went out and signed leases, constructed transmission sites and put up antennas around the country, only to have the equipment sit idle during the delay between February and June.
Some stations, however, are turning off analog and going digital before the deadline, so MediaFlo is able to turn on some areas on a market-by-market basis. Between February and June, MediaFlo will turn on more transmitters for Flo than it did for the initial launch. Come June, coverage should expand considerably. Between now and then, if a station near a big city decides to switch over, that can clear up interference and improve MediaFlo’s reach, filling in geographic holes.
Coverage is just one of the issues for MediaFlo, which is building a nationwide mobile TV network from scratch. Others are in the areas of devices, distribution and pricing, and MediaFlo is working on those fronts, according to Stone.
“I love the product,” he says. “It’s got some basic fundamental things we need to fix,” but the product, market opportunity and financial stability of owner Qualcomm all make it a worthwhile venture. If even one of those things were missing, it would be a problem, he says.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Audiovox announced it selected Flo TV to deliver live TV to the auto industry. Audiovox will be the in-vehicle/back seat device provider, while MediaFlo will supply the multicast service.
Stone says there’s no reason that devices other than cell phones can’t use MediaFlo.
As for pricing, AT&T and Verizon Wireless choose how to bill for their services, and currently they’re bundling mobile TV with other data products and services. The upside is the customer is exposed to a broader set of services; the downside is the price point is higher, he says, and that’s not exactly enticing to consumers in a down economy.
MediaFlo won’t share subscriber numbers, leaving that up to the carriers.