Whether broadcast or unicast, mobile TV and
video services are doing their part to catch and keep customers.
In Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, it’s not uncommon to see train and bus commuters watching broadcast TV on their mobile devices. Part of the appeal for this type of service is the lower cost, due to the fact that the carrier’s network is not streaming any data. Handsets with built-in receivers can pick up the broadcast signal, which is generally paid for through a subscription service.
While mobile broadcast TV is not as popular in the United States, MediaFLO is using this model to broadcast its channels in about 50 cities. But even if you live in one of the broadcast areas, there are some severe limitations on who can use the service. Firstly, you have to be with Verizon Wireless or AT&T, and you have to have one of the few mobile broadcast TV-ready handsets.
AT&T offers four TV phones: the LG Invision and Samsung Access, both with 2.2” screens and 320 × 240 resolution; the LG VU with a larger 3” touch screen and 400 × 240 resolution; and the Rolls Royce of AT&T’s offerings, the Samsung Eternity, with a 3.2” touch screen and 400 × 240 resolution.
It’s slim pickings over at Verizon, with only two TV phones available: the Motorola Krave with a 2.4” screen and 320 × 240 resolution; and the LG Voyager with a 2.81” touch screen and 400 × 240 resolution.
MediaFLO set up its broadcast system using abandoned channels on the 700 MHz band, which they bought at auction in 2002 and 2003. About five years later, the first MediaFLO broadcasts were watched in San Diego, followed closely by other major cities in the United States.
In March 2008, the company acquired parts of the spectrum used by the soon-to-be de-activated analog television signal. The plan was to use this spectrum to expand into about 40 new U.S. cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco, as soon as the analog TV signal was switched off on Feb. 17. Unfortunately for MediaFLO, the government delayed the transition until June 12, a move that will reportedly cost MediaFLO tens of millions of dollars.
AT&T and Verizon each currently offer 10 MediaFLO channels, including CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN, Fox and Comedy Central. The basic monthly access packages for both carriers is $15, but expanded packages are available that include Web browsing and video clips.
SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
MobiTV is also emerging as a serious player in the mobile TV game. Its service uses the carrier’s existing network to supply high-quality video in the form of on-demand content. While it does offer some full episodes of shows like Battlestar Gallactica, the programming focuses on short clips, namely music videos, news stories, weather and sports updates.
One of its channels is Short Brain TV, serving up “the best in short-form video entertainment,” and the short and sharp approach to mobile TV is proving popular with the MTV generation.
Sprint is currently using MobiTV as its main outlet for mobile TV. The cost is determined by the user’s data plan, or 3 cents per KB for those without a plan.
The selection of TV-enabled Sprint handsets is extensive, due to the fact that it doesn’t need a built-in antenna. Sprint’s Web site currently offers 17 TV-capable phones, including HTC’s Touch Pro and Touch Diamond, Samsung’s Ace and Instinct, and Motorola’s Renegade, MOTO Q and MOTORAZR.
The other advantage of a streaming, carrier-based solution like MobiTV is that it’s available wherever there is network coverage, not just in selected cities. But according to MobiTV’s CEO Charlie Nooney, all this wouldn’t be possible without advances in mobile phone and network technology.
“There have been a few big changes recently. Handsets are getting better for video, with better screens and processors, and the introduction of the 3G network,” which better facilitates the data-intensive streaming process.
So is there a place for both broadcast and streaming (also known as unicast) mobile TV, or will they battle until only one format is left standing? “There’s room for both. MediaFLO is popular in the cities where it is available. But streaming services have an advantage because there is better coverage,” says Jeff Orr, senior analyst at ABI Research. “It comes down to delivery. Do you want a limited number of broadcast shows? The TiVO and Internet generation want interactivity and the ability to watch what they want, when they want.”
CONTENT ON THE GO
At the heart of the mobile TV ecosystem are content producers like GoTV. Its production studio produces six channels of original content designed for mobile use. Five of the six channels cover the music genres of hip hop, rock, metal, Latin and country, with an additional “Superchannel” covering a concoction of news, weather and horoscopes.
GoTV is accessible via its GoTV video player application, which is available for the iPhone or T-Mobile’s Android-powered G1. Once installed, users have access to the six GoTV channels and five other syndicated channels. The company also makes some of its content available through MediaFLO and MobiTV.
GoTV’s CEO Tom Ellsworth sees his company as a new age music magazine. “Think of it as Rolling Stone Magazine for your phone.”
This concept is proving popular with young, Android-using hip hop fans. “Through January, there were 130,000 customer downloads on the Android platform. Our main demographic is late teen to early college kids, and the Hip Hop Official channel is doing particularly well.”
Ellsworth also weighs in on the broadcast versus streamed content debate. “News and sports events may work for scheduled broadcasts, but on-demand is the winner for those with a text, phone or Internet mindset.”
Figures from ABI Research predict that mobile TV will attract more than 500 million global viewers by 2013. As a result, mobile TV services and content providers are starting to emerge to support the market. For example, Ortiva is offering carriers a service that reduces the effects of network variations on the quality of mobile TV and video.
Other companies are betting on mobile as an interactive tool for traditional TV viewers. MobUI recently released a mobile chatroom application used to link like-minded fans of various channels and programs.
Viewing trends and technology standards may vary throughout the world, but the potential for mobile advertisers, content developers, manufacturers, service providers and carriers is huge. The mobile TV space may be the Wild West of the wireless world, but these companies are the Clint Eastwoods that will bring order to the land.