Siano Sets Sights on U.S. Mobile-Television Market, Possible IPO

Siano Mobile Silicon Ltd., an Israeli maker of TV chips for mobile devices, is planning a push into the U.S. next year, setting the stage for an initial public offering filing as early as 2012.

Siano, whose chips let gadgets receive digital TV signals, has had conversations with bankers and is weighing a U.S. filing next year or in 2013, Chief Executive Officer Alon Ironi said in an interview. The company hasn’t set a date for the move, and the timing may depend on how quickly digital mobile TV takes off with Americans, he said.

Siano, the largest provider of digital mobile-TV receiver chips in China and Latin America, is preparing to make inroads in the U.S. in 2012. The effort will get a boost from broadcasters, which are planning to introduce a service that lets consumers watch shows on phones and tablets, as well as in cars. Siano aims to overcome a dim perception of the technology in the U.S., hurt by Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM)’s failed Flo TV service.

“We need to see the creation of a positive perception of the mobile-TV market in the eyes of the financial community,” Ironi said. “It’s almost a condition for going public. Right now, if you talk to an average analyst, all they know about mobile TV is it failed.”

The global market for mobile-TV receiver chips may reach 159.4 million units in 2015, up from 99 million chips this year, according to research firm Forward Concepts Co. While Asia currently leads in mobile-TV adoption, success in the U.S. is key for holding an IPO here, Ironi said.

Small Number

After years of companies promoting the idea, only 24.7 million Americans watch video on mobile devices, according to IE Market Research Corp. Qualcomm’s Flo service, which required a subscription, was shuttered earlier this year.

Still, other companies look to re-energize the market. MobiTV Inc. (MBTV), a maker of software that lets smartphone users watch live television, filed for an IPO in August. The Emeryville, California-based company posted a sales gain of 24 percent in the first nine months of 2011 to $59.9 million. Its loss in the period narrowed to $10.9 million from $13 million.

“For MobiTV to do well would be a huge positive for the industry,” Tom Taulli, an independent IPO analyst, said in an interview. The introduction of new services also would help, Taulli said.

Broadcaster Alliance

The Mobile500 Alliance -- an organization of 48 broadcasting groups, including McGraw-Hill Cos. and Gray Television Inc. (GTN/A) -- will begin testing mobile TV technology in Seattle early next year, Executive Director John Lawson said. Trial participants will be able to access TV broadcasts by attaching a special gadget, with Siano’s chip, to their mobile devices, he said. Consumers will be able to watch free, local programming without having to pay for a wireless data plan.

The Mobile Content Venture -- an industry alliance comprised of about a dozen broadcasting groups, including Fox Entertainment and NBC Universal -- has its own effort. The group has encouraged TV stations blanketing half the country to add mobile TV transmitters. It will start rolling out devices that can receive the signals next year, said Salil Dalvi, a co- general manager at Mobile Content Venture.

The question is whether Siano can succeed in a market where Qualcomm failed, said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts. Qualcomm, based in San Diego, is the world’s largest maker of mobile-phone chips and the Flo service was a bid to get Americans to use their devices in new ways. Qualcomm even promoted Flo TV during the Super Bowl in 2010.

‘A Skeptic’

“I am a skeptic,” Strauss said. “Qualcomm got out of it -- it may be a clue.”

In May, Siano raised $20 million in funding, led by Israeli venture firm Jerusalem Venture Partners. The money was aimed at helping the company gain traction in North America.

The startup isn’t alone in supplying chips for mobile TV. Its competitors include Telegent Systems Inc., which was purchased by Spreadtrum Communications Inc. (SPRD) earlier this year.

Siano has sought to build market share by teaming up with many of the largest device manufacturers. It works with Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., LG Electronics Inc. (066570), ZTE Corp. (000063), Dell Inc. (DELL) and Huawei Technologies Co.

Customers may show prototypes of their consumer gadgets at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with products becoming available in the first quarter, Ironi said.

Siano expects to gauge whether the U.S. market is gaining traction by mid-2012, Ironi said. The company has annual sales of about $40 million, he said. Revenue quadrupled in 2010 and doubled in each year between 2007 and 2009, Ironi said, declining to elaborate further on Siano’s finances.

New mobile-TV services won’t require a wireless data plan, helping sidestep a weakness of Qualcomm’s Flo TV, Ironi said.

Broadcasters also can put their marketing muscle behind promoting the new service, said Mobile Content Venture’s Dalvi.

“We got access to a pretty big megaphone to promote mobile TV,” Dalvi said.

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