Mobile TV: Today, Tomorrow

By | November 8, 2008

I’ve never watch Mobile TV on my outdated phone, but I have spent an hour or so watching YouTube clips with my cousin on her iPhone.

One of my co-workers regularly downloads TV shows to her iPod and watches them while traveling. I can  see the appeal of that, if I was on a long flight or train ride and I didn’t want to cart around a bulky portable DVD player or laptop computer and I wanted to keep my 7-year-old occupied.

I have watched TV shows online, like the whole first season of “Lost.” I’ve also watched entire movies online through Netflix. But I only do that on my laptop or desktop computer.

If I had cheap, easy access to watch these same programs through my tiny screened cell phone, would I? I probably would, occasionally.   

But mobile TV is way behind in the United States. Look at what happened to Mobile ESPN back in 2006. The sports network – backed by the big dollars of Disney – offered potiential users access to awesome live TV content and an engaging interface. But it wasn’t enough. ESPN’s Mobile Virtual Network Operator business failed after only garnering about 30,000 subscribers in about 9 months. The company’s goal was 250,000 subscribers. Scaling back, ESPN Mobile is now offered as an application through other mobile providers such as Verizon.

So why didn’t ESPN’s MVNO get more traction? I think it is the cost has a lot to do with it. The value of such a portable service, no matter what the content, isn’t worth the money in the US market. You need the right phone ($$), the monthly service contract ($$), great bandwidth, lots of battery power and have a such a mobile lifestyle that you rarely get to watch or record a more traditional TV broadcasts. That formula is quite the niche.

TV viewership is declining. Audiences are shifting to online interactive media. And yes, for any TV brand to survive in the future, it has to start migrating to mobile. But consumer information consumption habits of TV content in the US haven’t shifted enough yet. Broadband cable TV, HDTV, TIVO, on-demand, premium channels – we are already paying a lot for these services. I know I don’t have enough money left to pay for TV on my phone.

An October 2008 report from Juniper Research, says that although more than 330 million mobile users worldwide will own broadcast TV-enabled handsets by 2013, less than 14% will opt for mobile pay TV services. It’s not necessary.

If anything, it will probably be the porn industry that  figures out how to make mobile TV profitable. Supposedly, the mobile porn market is projected to reach $3.3 billion by 2011 – mostly in Europe and Asia.

“Adult content business models have succeeded in other major delivery media: print, cinema, DVD, pay-per-view TV, etc. There is no reason why the mobile channel should not be equally profitable for adult content industry players,” said Bruce Gibson of Juniper Research.

Mobile is about utility, fun and instant gratification. Mobile is about connecting people with other people.

“They aren’t entertainment boxes waiting to receive content to display to a passive user,” wrote Regina Lynn, a columnist at Wired.com.

So unless mobile TV providers find a way to make mobile TV more than just a mini-sized broadcast, it is not going to become a regular part of everyday life that people will shell out their hard-earned money to have.


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