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One upshot of the digital transition: Live TV on your cellphone

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Cellphones -- the new boob tube? Credit: masochismtango via Flickr.

You are by now perhaps a little sick about hearing about the digital TV transition that will take place Friday. The country isn’t prepared, televisions will be thrown away, dozens of people won’t be able to watch ‘Days of Our Lives’ anymore. And so on.

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But for San Diego-based Qualcomm, Friday marks a big opportunity. It’s the day the company can finally flip the switch on FLO TV, its expensive and long-awaited mobile TV service that will broadcast about a dozen channels to mobile devices so addicts can watch live shows on their phones.

As a story in today’s Times outlines, though, FLO TV may or may not be what one observer calls ‘one of the colossal business mistakes of the first decade of 2000.’ That’s because Qualcomm spent more than $800 million to build a service that’s available now on only nine models and only on Verizon and AT&T.

What’s more, as the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a group of broadcasters developing their own standard, gets its act together, FLO TV will have a competitor that offers live TV -- for free. (Of course, they’ll need to get phones optimized for the ATSC standard, which no phones in the market are, says Debra Kaufman, who blogs about the topic at MobilizedTV).

Both groups see a future in which we’ll be able to access live TV in our cars, on our computers and on virtually any screen we can carry with us, all thanks to the spectrum freed up by the digital transition.

So maybe some people who rely on analog signals will be watching a lot less TV after Friday, but odds are many of us will be eventually watching a lot more. Maybe it’s all part of the master plan explained by Alec Baldwin to turn our brains into mush. Or a way to get us even more dependent on our cellphones.

--Alana Semuels


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