Cellcos race to fine-tune mobile TV

Natalie Apostolou
27 Apr 2007

When Robert Redford added the gloss and currency of his Sundance indie film empire to the 3G movement, mobile TV got a sudden infusion of undeniable cool. The efforts at 3GSM in Barcelona this year to get a series of up-and-coming filmmakers to adapt their talent and kudos to the '4th screen' not only gave operators, handset manufacturers and vendors a taste for a new business model, but most importantly drew the eye of the media and entertainment sector onto the potential of mobility and its built-in audience.

The concept managed to get strong media mindshare, but still left operators largely baffled about how to extract dollars from a made-for-mobile TV proposition and aggregate the plethora of these new content possibilities.

Is a nod from Hollywood enough to get the mobile TV show on the road‾

Savvy media companies are starting to think so, and aggressive vendors desperate to show their heavily invested 3G operator customers that they can and will get an ROI soon are re-forging their own market strategies to help to seize the opportunity.

Yet, the effusive talk from all camps seems to be taking a long time to download into commercial success.

And the dissection of what the consumer is prepared to pay and demand remains inconclusive. In February M:Metrics revealed that in Europe, ex-mobile TV viewers now outnumber current users. Pricing was a key concern for 45% of those that switched off, while 24% cited concerns over service quality and reliability. Yet results from proof-of- concept trials around the world claim that the appetite for mobile TV is laying dormant for a compelling service offering.

Recent trials in Australia led by Broadcast Australia on the DVB-H platform found that 80% of participants would take up mobile TV services, with average viewing times of 20 minutes and usage driven by sports, entertainment and news. Sister company Arquiva in the UK gained similar feedback from its Media-FLO pilot in Oxford. Users reported 83% service satisfaction, while 76% claimed that they would take up the service within 12 months.

Independent analyst Paul Budde is quick to dismiss the heat around mobile TV as nothing more than vendor-generated hot air. 'Mobile TV is hype only. It is not taking off anywhere basically because the business models are flawed, few people want to pay for it, in the same way that consumers are not willing to pay for IPTV over broadband.'

He blames open-ended mobile charging regimes for putting consumers off in droves. 'While speeds are increasing on HSDPA networks, customers will be massively punished if they are starting to use those speeds, as they will have to pay through the nose for mobile broadband capacity,' he says. Budde also claims that only 3% of global mobile users are on 3G.

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi adds that in general, mobile TV is eliciting consumer ambivalence. With European carrierssuch as Orange citing average usage times of 2.5 minutes per day for video services, it suggests that 'even when viewers do want mobile TV, they want it in short, sharp bursts and aren't prepared to pay a lot for it,' she says.

Partnerships required

Nevertheless, the model that's emerging indicates that mobile TV will be led largely by trends and visions outside of the wireless industry.

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