The iTV Doctor Is In! Can TabletTV Save Broadcast Television?

Dear Readers:

It was 1984, and I had just purchased a Honda Civic Wagon (which looked kinda like a tiny space shuttle). The dealer had a promotion which added a brand new, snazzy Sony Watchman TV: GIANT 2" black-and-white screen, and could receive all broadcast stations in a handy pocket-sized battery-powered unit.

What I didn't expect is that, on my daily train ride to and from Manhattan, I would be the most popular guy on the train, especially during baseball season on the way home. I used to joke that I paid $6,500 (it WAS 1984, after all) for the TV and got a free car.

Turns out my friend Len Fertig, CEO of Motive TV, had a similar experience recently. Len was in Atlanta, on the way to Los Angeles, on Super Bowl Sunday. The plane was boarding at the start of the (rather monumental) 4th quarter of the game, and when Len got to his seat he pulled out his iPad and started watching the game live on the local NBC affiliate.

Until they closed the door for departure, Len was the most popular guy on the plane!

Of course, you can't watch broadcast television on an iPad. Or on any handheld device. There's no tuner.

That's where Motive's new TabletTV comes in. It is, for all intents and purposes, a tiny portable digital TV tuner. Pair it up with the TabletTV iPad app, and all local digital channels are available. On a recent afternoon, we counted over 60 available channels in midtown Manhattan.

Note: I took this pic on a Sunday afternoon at my home in rural Maryland. That's my local CBS affiliate. The broadcast facility is about 40 miles from my house, and I was watching on the first floor of my house. TabletTV picked up about 20 digital broadcast signals for me.

Now the FCC tells us that something more than 90% of the US population has a high-quality digital signal available for NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, PBS and The CW. Usually many more channels than that, as I found.

So here's the skinny: No license fees. No retransmission issues. No thorny business negotiations. Just free, Over The Air (OTA) broadcast network television. Remember broadcast network television? They're the guys with The Good Stuff! And without The Good Stuff generating viewership and revenue, we don't have a television industry. It's as simple as that.

If newly launched (or announced) OTT packages from Sling TV, Verizon, HBO and even CBS want to flesh-out their consumer offerings, TabletTV is the way to go.

I caught up with Len recently in New York, and this is what we talked about:

iTV Doctor: Len, first a bit of background. What is Motive TV, and how did a US-based cable guy end up in London?

Len Fertig: Rick, in reverse order, I went to Europe in 1991 to create, co-found, and lead Central European Media, a new broadcast group that privatized and operated broadcast television in the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. I've been there much of my time ever since. Motive Television Plc is a London-based developer of specialized software for the TV industry that has, since 2009, been enabling digital broadcasters, satellite platforms, and new TV ventures with the ability to offer VOD, catch-up, and other new digital services to the public. In 2012 we engaged with Granite Broadcasting here in the States to develop TabletTV which we beta-launched in San Francisco in December and will roll out nationally this year.

iTV Doctor: Tell us about TabletTV. Where did that idea come from?

Len Fertig: TabletTV came from the realization that, while in the past television viewing was centered on the big TV in the living room, in the present and even more so in the future, television viewing is more personal and convenient on devices you can hold in your hand. With Motive's experience in putting together non-linear TV distribution combining what can be done with digital broadcasting plus the Internet, TabletTV was a natural evolution--making it possible for people to receive what you call "the good stuff" directly to their tablets and mobile devices from the existing digital broadcasts that are out there, plus still be able to access everything available on the Internet. And to be able to do so at a very reasonable cost compared with the alternatives.

iTV Doctor: Assuming you don't have minions holed-up in a basement in Liverpool assembling your snazzy little device, how does that magic happen?

Len Fertig: Actually the hardware is made in Asia to fit our specs. How it happens is really more concentrated in the app. Motive's engineering team, which is based not in Liverpool but Barcelona, has developed an app each for the USA and for the UK (because broadcast standards differ) that drives and works with a tuner/antenna made in Asia. Effectively the combination of the app on the tablet plus the antenna-tuner--we call it a T-Pod in the USA--turn your tablet into a television plus a DVR.

iTV Doctor: Before you came to the US market, you commissioned Magid Research to do a preliminary evaluation. Can you share the highlights?

Len Fertig: Sure. We asked Magid to fundamentally answer 3 questions: 1) how big was the likely TabletTV market?, 2)who were they?, and 3) why would they want TabletTV? The result is much more detailed, but simply stated, Magid learned that the potential market was about 33%-50% of tablet users. Surprisingly, although the interest spanned nearly all subgroups, the relatively highest level was among the 25-54 professionals and high TV-watching group that often had cable and satellite services. And the primary reasons for wanting TabletTV were two: first, for a low cost they had portability--i.e. could watch their favorite programs anywhere anytime because of the pervasive TV signal, without worrying about hotspots, Internet charges, etc.; and second, that all the channels, stations, and programs were in a single place, i.e., aggregation.

iTV Doctor: You're in the middle of a beta trial in San Francisco. What kind of consumer insights can you share?

Len Fertig: Like any beta launch, we keep learning every day. On the positive side, we have learned that people love the hardware and think our app is easy to learn, understand, and use. On the negative side, we have to fix some bugs, improve our program guide access method, and work on the user experience. We expect to launch our first update in the next two weeks, and that should take care of most of the negatives. But the bottom line is that everybody loves the idea of being able to watch and record so much content on their favorite screens anywhere without paying extra every month.

iTV Doctor: As I mentioned above, it seems like TabletTV is a way for the expanding crop of OTT providers--everybody from Sling TV to Netflix--to bundle network broadcast television into their service offerings, without retransmission entanglements. How does that work?

Len Fertig: We are working on making this seamless. Right now, someone who becomes a TTV user and also subscribes to an OTT service can easily watch both--you use our app to watch TabletTV channels, and go to the OTT provider's app or Web site to watch theirs. But in the future, we hope to integrate access to the OTT providers directly from the TabletTV App so it could be a seamless switching back and forth. Ultimately, with some engineering work with cooperating OTT platforms, viewers could see an integrated program listing with all the channels and programs available from either service.

iTV Doctor: And I assume those same OTT providers are interested?

Len Fertig: Yes we have serious interest from everybody we've spoken to, and we're speaking to everybody!

iTV Doctor: That's all very cool, and it will certainly be popular. But how do you make money?

Len Fertig: The big answer is by providing great value to consumers compared with other alternatives. For only $89.95 one time, we send you the T-Pod and provide the app. Then you get to watch all the major networks and local channels, news, sports, prime time TV, with no monthly subscriptions ever. It's free TV--the best deal in television. And if you want more, it's there for you with optional packages. Specifically, we will make money from advertising based on viewing of broadcast television using TabletTV and through the optional on-demand content packages. We believe there is great potential to give people what they say they want; to be able to watch what they want to watch wherever they want to watch it, and on the screens they want. That's our goal and how we will make money--by giving people what they clearly want and cannot find elsewhere.

iTV Doctor: Where do you go from here?

Len Fertig: We have three priorities for 2015: 1) expand the TabletTV app to more screens, specifically Android devices and smartphones; 2) roll out our marketing across the USA--you can use TTV anywhere in the US today, but we are marketing in our beta market, San Francisco; and 3) introduce our patented VOD technology to add the top titles to the TabletTV offering.

iTV Doctor: I assume we'll see you at TVOT San Francisco in June?

Len Fertig: Wouldn't miss it for the world!


The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.


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