Japan to launch smartphone-only TV broadcast channel

A venture founded by the country's largest broadcasters will send TV, games, and magazines to phones on analog airwaves

A television broadcast viewable only on smartphones and tablets with special tuners will go live across Japan next year, according to a venture funded by the country's largest television stations and mobile operator.

New broadcaster nottv said at Ceatec, the Japanese electronics show running this week, that it will use bandwidth frequencies left over when the country ended its analog broadcasts earlier this year.

Because it will function as an over-the-air broadcaster, its quality will not suffer as the number of viewers increase, and it will be able to deliver digital content, including games and newspapers, simultaneously to a mass audience.

"Television is currently designed for viewing at home, with everyone sitting around a TV. We want to be more personal and interactive," said Hiroaki Ban, a manager in the corporate strategy division of mmbi, the company that will operate nottv.

The company showed demonstrations of its main application, which allows live commenting over Twitter and Facebook as shows progress. It also has the time shift features found in many set-top boxes for on-demand viewing.

Ban said the programming will typically be much shorter in length than that made for traditional TV, sometimes around 10 minutes per show, because it will be aimed at mobile users looking to fill idle time. He said the company expected much of its content to be saved locally on smartphones and viewed on demand.

The broadcaster is currently waiting for final permission from the government to use public airwaves, but expects to launch in April 2012. Smartphones will need a special tuner to receive the broadcasts, but NTT DoCoMo, the country's largest mobile operator, is a major investor and has a strong sway over domestic phone manufacturers.

Japan already has a digital broadcasting system aimed at mobile devices called oneseg. But it mainly serves as a simultaneous repeat of existing channels, with little unique content, and Nottv says it will be able to offer far better video and sound quality.

In July, Japan officially ended analog television, switching the entire country over to digital broadcasts.

Mmbi was formed to create business ventures around the vacated frequencies. Its investors include all of Japan's major TV broadcasters, massive ad agency Dentsu, and NTT DoCoMo.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
Topics: NTT DoCoMo, distribution, consumer electronics, mobile, CEATEC
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