Looking forward, carefully

19 Jan 2007

Here's a notion for Steve Jobs to mull over: Maybe he's got it all backwards. Maybe the next "killer app" in mobile won't be mobile TV at all. Instead of pushing video content to the small phone screen, perhaps mobile carriers and vendors should instead start preparing to move individual video content from personal telephone cameras to Web sites or televisions, so it's appeal could be maximized on those larger television screens across the developed world.

That's one of several interesting notions contained in a series of annual telecommunications predictions and trends just released by research firm Deloitte & Touche. "The mobile industry, particularly in developed countries, is seeking a new killer application to supplement voice and SMS revenues," the report notes. "However, the industry's optimism about mobile television may be unfounded. Rather than trying to squeeze television onto a mobile phone, the industry should arguably be focusing instead on reversing the flow of data."

The report adds that as the resolution of cameras on mobile phones steadily improves, so, too, will the amount of user-generated video content - programming, to the folks in Hollywood - moving from the mobile phone. If that's so, operators who carry even a small amount of such traffic over their networks could see their data revenues grow significantly.

That's probably not what mobile operators spending billions to deliver video over the phone want to hear. But it's an interesting hypothesis, and not just to those of us who don't necessarily look forward to viewing live sporting events and Broadway musicals on tiny telephone screens. The "reverse data" notion is plausible because it capitalizes on the lessons of YouTube, Andy Warhol, Marshall McLuhan and even mega-popular US television shows like American Idol: Everyone is a star (at least for their 15 minutes of fame), and it's the viewers, not the middleman content providers, who will ultimately determine popular culture.

Besides, CNN is already encouraging viewers around the world to shoot video of breaking news events and submit it to the network for airing. Think about what will happen when mobile phone cameras are able to shoot more than a few moments of grainy video snippets. Will it be very long before Web entrepreneurs establish their own "citizen journalism" networks to transmit and post the video images‾ Or before the YouTube aficionados demand to view themselves on the Big Tube‾ It's not too far-fetched to believe the mobile operators could carve out a viable business model transmitting the data to the large screen, rather than compressing content down to the small screen.

Hasn't the future always been about being big rather than small‾

(Al Senia is the editor of America's Network and is based in Los Angeles.)

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