AT&T exec says he's open to free TV on phones

/ Source: The Associated Press

The head of AT&T Inc.'s consumer business said Friday that he believes there may be room for phones in the company's lineup that can receive new digital broadcasts from local TV stations, if a business model can be worked out.

TV stations in 22 U.S. cities announced this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show that they will start broadcasting signals this year in "mobile digital TV," a format designed to be received by devices like cell phones, MP3 players, GPS units and in-car entertainment systems.

At least initially, these signals will likely be free to receive, just like regular over-the-air broadcasts financed by advertising.

But the two largest wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, already sell phones that are compatible with MediaFLO, a rival mobile TV broadcasting system run by Qualcomm Inc. It provides 10 channels for $15 per month.

"I don't think we're necessarily opposed to (mobile DTV) even though we have MediaFLO," said Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's president and chief executive of Mobility and Consumer Markets, in an interview.

"I think we'll look at it and if it's something customers want and if it's a good way to monetize our business" it would be possible to have receivers for signals in phones, he said.

But there has to be something in it for AT&T.

"With all of these things, the thing that works best is if you do a revenue share model. It's conceivable one could do a revenue share of the advertising or some other approach," he said. A "revenue share" could mean that broadcasters would pay AT&T, or perhaps subsidize the phones.

LG Electronics Inc. of South Korea, which had a major hand in developing the mobile broadcast technology, showed off two prototype cell phones and a portable DVD player that could receive the broadcasts, but had no firm U.S. launch date for them. Free TV broadcasts for cell phones have been a success in Korea and Japan.