Mobile TV Trends

Do you dream of watching TV from your mobile phone? I don’t. But apparently others do, which is why handset makers, carriers, and the numerous other service providers that make up the mobile ecosystem are toiling like Santa’s elves to make mobile TV a reality.

Actually, it already is real – a company called MobiTV has more than 1 million subscribers to its service, which streams programming from ESPN, Fox, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and many other cable channels to Sprint, Cingular and Alltel customers. Another company, GoTV Networks, produces original on-demand programming with channels like Hip Hop Official and College All Access for Sprint, Nextel and Cingular subscribers.

It’s a complex environment, replete with competing technologies across multiple formats. Two standards are emerging for streaming TV-quality video to mobile phones. Nokia and other members of a group called the Mobile DTV Alliance are supporting DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds), which has been in test mode since 2005. Nokia recently launched its first DVB-H handset, the N92, in Vietnam and Indonesia. I read somewhere that the phone will cost the equivalent of $750 in Vietnam – immediately eliminating most Vietnamese consumers from consideration. Don’t expect to see the service in the U.S. until well into next year.   

Nokia N92

The other emerging standard is called FLO (Forward Link Only), developed by Qualcomm through its MediaFLO subsidiary. Qualcomm has Verizon Wireless in its corner for MediaFLO services, which were expected in the U.S. this year but are being pushed out to next year (at the earliest).

I did an article on mobile advertising last month for The Advertiser (you can’t view it online, unfortunately) (posted here in PDF, courtesy of The Pohly Company, which published the mag for the Association of National Advertisers). The execs I interviewed spoke to the complexity of the medium. David Bluhm, CEO of GoTV, called mobile “10 times more complex than current channels,” adding, “It’s a nightmare, and it’s not getting better anytime soon.” The challenges stem from the form factor – it’s not easy getting quality video on a 2×2-inch screen – and the fact that video content must be optimized for all of the various handsets, accommodating different screen sizes, operating systems and various subfunctions.

The complexity, of course, will be passed along to consumers in terms of monthly subscription fees, which will likely keep mobile video in its niche for the forseeable future. Expect advertisers to subsidize the costs, either through banner or in-video advertising or through a sponsorship model (less invasive). Advertisers have an opportunity through mobile video to develop the closest thing to a true one-to-one relationship with consumers – what’s more personal than a mobile phone? – but the technology also presents an opportunity for brands to royally screw up if they try to hijack the viewing experience.

You can read the full Advertiser article (in PDF form) here, courtesy of The Pohly Company, which publishes the mag for the Association of Natin


5 thoughts on “Mobile TV Trends”

  1. Rob,
    While producing the Demo events, i saw a shit load of companies that bet their future on TV cell phone handsets. They’d come in toi Shipley’s and my conference room, disocver that we had weak cell signal penetration and then boot up their laptops to show me how good it was going to be. If i was really interested in their technology, I’d nivite them down to the local greasy chopstick–which was down the street next to a cell tower– for lunch and make them demo the product.
    I finally picked one or two companies for the Demo Mobile lineup. i made the selections based on “technologies to come” in 2000 and 2001. I also picked one company for Demo 2001 but ended my segment with this on-stage Demo by saying “it’s first real big usage may be by compulsive gamblers sitting outside off track betting establishments.” My views haven’t changed all that much in five to six years heres why:
    1. broadcast media buyers want a broadcast media experience. The technology just isn’t far enough along yet to provide that. In fact, media buyers might just as well insert morse code as try to pipe their ads to a cell phone screen.
    2. Most US cell networks are designed for voice, not data. the move to second and third generation CDMA and GSM technologies makes for a better platform, but it still has a long way to go.
    3. Verizone/Vodaphone, Cingular and Sprint are only now just rolling out broasdband wireless networks. It’s the new upmarket networks tht really support the bandwidth needed for video
    — those networks are expensive as hell and beyond the reach of most general consumers.
    — the networks and applications require new handsets, which is a >$300 adder to the equation ( and again contributes to the slow adoption of this technology.
    4. This is a new applicarion which will take time to gain traction. What’s the value to the consumer?

    I really wish the technologists in this category well, but if they go overseas they’re going to find gthemselves cmopeting in a very techno-savvy environment against cmopanies such as DoCoMo and others who can eat their lunches. Most VC investors recognioze this whicgh means the cost of getting a technology to market is extremely high and the time to a cash-out liquidity eventy is long making this a technology most will have to pass on.

    Be well and sorry for the overlong post.

    Jim Forbes

  2. Great insights, Jim – i think you hit the nail(s) on the head. Also, in many ways this is a technology in search of a problem. There can’t be much demand among the populace for high-priced video delivered to your handset.

  3. My new Treo 700p with Sprint service has TV. My oldest daughter was really amused to see Disney cartoons on my phone while standing in line at the market one day. But those were just demos to whet your whistle. There’s no way I’m paying the monthly nut to watch TV on a two-inch screen. I’d barely be able to see Katie Couric’s legs!

    The service is brought to me by Kinoma.

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