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High-def live TV now available aboard ships on the oceans

Aug 26, 2015 12:54 PM
The user interface for KVH’s IP-MobileCast service, which uses a ship’s existing satellite capabilities to offer a variety of on-demand television shows, plus weather and nautical data and training programs.

Courtsey KVH

The user interface for KVH’s IP-MobileCast service, which uses a ship’s existing satellite capabilities to offer a variety of on-demand television shows, plus weather and nautical data and training programs.

The recent boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao attracted millions of viewers around the world, including some who were watching from sea.

MTN Communications delivered the fight live in high definition to 30 cruise ships operating in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea. The event was an add-on service to the MTN Worldwide TV live television entertainment package.

“The idea is to have services at sea that mirror what they are used to on land,” said Liz DeCastro, MTN’s senior corporate and marketing communications director. “MTN is the only live TV service at sea that is available to ships globally, and now it is available in HD.”

Live TV is the latest evolution in maritime entertainment services available via satellite, which in recent years expanded from basic telephone services to broadband Internet, TV and video streaming. Maritime operators are now increasingly concerned with crew welfare, which means providing entertainment options during downtime.

There are many satellite entertainment packages available ranging from basic to deluxe, and monthly prices range from a few hundred dollars to thousands per month. MTN Communications and KVH are two examples of providers who offer packages on the low, medium and high ends of the market.

The MTN-TV package includes 11 channels that show news, sports, entertainment and special events such as the soccer World Cup, Super Bowl and the Olympics. The channel lineup includes MSNBC, BBC, SkyNews, SkySports News, Fox News and CNBC. There are channels that package U.S. and British TV, movies and sports. Some programming is available in multiple languages.

Roughly 140 vessels around the world subscribe to MTN’s live TV service, including large commercial vessels and cruise ships. The company has subscribers in the oil and gas sector and on some government boats, DeCastro said. The smallest subscriber vessel is about 130 feet long.

“We are the service provider of choice for the most bandwidth-intensive operators,” DeCastro said. “If you’re a small fishing vessel, MTN-TV may not be for you because you probably don’t need live HDTV.”

In addition to its live TV programs, MTN offers Internet access and satellite telephone calling. It allows transmission of video feeds from offshore construction projects, oil rigs and maritime vessels.

“If you’re spending billions of dollars on a project in the middle of the ocean, you want to be able to see how it’s going,” DeCastro said.

MTN, which was founded nearly 35 years ago and is based in Miramar, Fla., uses proprietary technology to compress satellite signals to minimize subscribers’ satellite and terrestrial broadband usage. The company buys bandwidth from several satellite companies and offers worldwide coverage, allowing users to seamlessly transfer from one provider to another without interrupting service.

Subscribing to MTN-TV requires an upfront investment in hardware and onboard technology. Vessels must have appropriate antennas to receive the various satellite signals. The initial cost will depend on several factors, including the types of satellite hardware the vessel already has. DeCastro declined to comment on subscription pricing for the service.

For operators with lower budgets for entertainment and crew welfare programming, KVH offers live satellite-TV options and a content-delivery package that automatically arrives on the vessel’s entertainment server.

KVH’s Tracvision TV8 antenna system uses a 32-inch dome antenna to receive live satellite programming from major providers around the world, including those available in Asia and Europe.

“You can take TV8 wherever the vessel is going around the world,” said Jill Connors, a spokeswoman for Middletown, R.I.-based KVH. “TV8 basically allows you to receive any satellite programming anywhere you go.”

Satellite TV service from major distributors such as DirecTV, Dish Network and similar companies in Europe and Asia is usually available no more than 100 miles offshore. Vessels must have subscriptions to the satellite service to receive the programming, and the TV8 system will not pick up signals in the open ocean.

In those situations, KVH’s IP-MobileCast content delivery service can fill in. The service uses a vessel’s existing KVH satellite infrastructure to receive TV, movies, periodicals and event programming such as the World Cup.

The service delivers news content from around the world to subscriber vessels each day, allowing crew to stay connected to sports teams and major events in their home countries. It delivers a range of new- release films and entire seasons of U.S. and foreign TV shows.

IP-MobileCast is available in tiered plans, which range from bronze to platinum. Bronze typically includes 10 movies, 10 TV shows and daily content from around 60 newspapers for $295 a month. The platinum package has roughly twice the number of movies and TV shows and costs about $1,295 a month.

The TV shows and movies stay on the vessel’s entertainment server for up to a year, allowing the vessel to build up a library over several months. A recent lineup of films available included “Birdman,” “Gone Girl” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Connors said.

“Up to 50 people at once can watch anything they want on any device using the IP-MobileCast app,” Connors said.

IP-MobileCast has features that allow transmission of high-resolution weather data, electronic nautical charts and videos and training programs for crew.

The service is intended to help vessels control satellite broadband usage, potentially reducing costs and reserving capacity for critical ship operations, Connors said. Instead of one or more crewmembers manually downloading TV shows or films, the entire suite of programs comes in a compressed form.

The company monitors satellite usage to find times to deliver the content without tying up crucial bandwidth. This content does not count against a vessel’s monthly satellite airtime plans.

“This has been quite interesting to maritime operators because it is a way to manage dollar cost,” she said. “It is a way to provide entertainment on a vessel and also a way to manage the bandwidth used on that vessel.”

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