PLDT stops myTV service

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2010 11:53 PM | Updated as of May 20 2010 06:12 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Goodbye, myTV.

The mobile television service brand of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) Group has ceased to be offered on trial basis--and for free--to mobile subscribers of PLDT subsidiary, Smart Communications.

"The myTV demo/trial service has been suspended indefinitely effective April 1, 2010," said Smart Communications Inc., Nation Broadcasting Corp., GV Broadcasting System, Inc., and 360Media Inc. in a filing with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) dated May 13.

The PLDT Group has been awaiting government rules on the provision of mobile television services before going full blast with the business. The commercial offering of myTV has been put on hold pending issuance by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) of its rules on mobile TV services.

Cable group complaint

The end of myTV's free offering was triggered by a complaint filed by the Philippine Cable Television Association (PCTA), a group of around 300 cable TV operators nationwide.

PCTA sought to stop the test broadcast offering, citing irregularities in the use of frequencies by different PLDT subsidiaries.

NTC granted demo permits to NBC and GV, which were previously assigned frequency rights for the test broadcast of handheld digital TV. In turn, Smart, a mobile phone operator, and GV entered into a service agreement, which essentially allowed Smart to exclusively offer the service to its mobile phone subscribers.

Smart is a subsidiary of PLDT while NBC and GV are units of MediaQuest Holdings Inc., the media holding company of the PLDT retirement fund. GV, licensed broadcast company, changed its corporate name from 360Media to MediaScape, Inc. in November 2007.

The PCTA wanted the NTC to issue a cease and desist order (CDO) against Smart and GV from accepting and processing applications for subscription to the myTV service offering; providing myTV services to Smart subscribers and charging fees; and advertising myTV services.

'Moot and academic'

Smart, NBC, and GV said that since myTV is no longer being offered in the market, then the case filed by the PCTA against them should be dismissed by the NTC. Even prior to the decision to stop offering the service, there have been no further advertisements or free offering of the trial service.

"Under the circumstances, the present case has been rendered moot and academic; hence, its dismissal is proper. Wherefore, premises considered, respondent respectfully prays that the present case be dismissed with prejudice for having been rendered moot and academic and/or for failure to state a cause of action against Smart," they said.

They did not say why the trial service was stopped but sources said the NTC no longer renewed the demo permit pending a decision as to which technology platform should be adopted.

Smart's defense

Smart reiterated in the filing that myTV was never launched commercially and remained free until its indefinite suspension.

Smart had said that the myTV subscription agreement will prove that GV is the service provider of myTV and not the cellular firm. "The fact that the subscriber and service provider enter into subscription agreement does not mean that myTV service has been launched and new services, such as myTV, may validly be introduced even without rules aimed at regulating such services," said Smart.

GV, meanwhile, said there is nothing illicit in the agreement and that the PCTA has no cause of action against them.

NBC said the fact that a myTV-enabled Smart mobile phone can receive the signal broadcast or transmitted using the 635 Megahertz (MHz) frequency, which is the range of Channel 41 (632-683 MHz), is not an indication that it is Smart or GV that is using the said frequency.

Moreover, NBC said it does not receive any compensation from an entity for its digital TV broadcasts, which broadcasts are for tests purpose only. NBC, it added, is not a party to the subscription agreement.

Digital TV technology

One of the many issues the cable group had against myTV was the use of Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) platform.

The PCTA had argued that DVB-H is essentially digital broadcasting, which the PLDT subsidiaries do not have a franchise yet. After all, NTC still does not have rules to spell out what technology the players in the country should adopt as far as digital TV services is concerned.

Smart’s myTV runs on a network independent of the existing cellular infrastructure. It is not transmitted through the cellular network via video streaming and video-downloads services which are currently offered through 3G cellular networks.

Globe Telecom, a rival of PLDT and its subsidiaries, also offered a mobile television service. Unlike PLDT's DVBH-based offering, however, Globe's mobile television offering was part of its 3G (third-generation) video streaming services. NTC has granted Globe a 3G license. 

Globe's 3G video streaming has been choppy and the broadcast quality has not been very good. In contrast, the video quality of Smart's myTV has been generally better since it allowed mobile devices with a similar antenna to receive digital TV signals, just like in free TV.

In February 2010, Globe shelved its mobile TV service, citing the lack of affordable handsets that are capable of receiving digital TV signal. On the average, the handset costs between P5,000 and P10,000 each.