Last month, Vodafone launched its "Global Mobile TV" service, which offers live TV content to viewers in various markets. The service includes an interesting twist: Some of the channels are not regular live broadcast channels, but specially created "loop channels", which play the same content over and over again in a continuous loop. Quoting from the Vodafone press release:
"HBO will offer award-winning full-length programming, such as "Sex and the City", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Six Feet Under". Programming will be adapted for various Vodafone markets and scheduled in 90 minute loops, 24 hours a day".
Since the transmission to the end user is unicast anyway, why is Vodafone offering such content through lopped live channels, rather than enabling users to access it on demand? I believe there are 3 answers to this question:
1) On-demand viewing of the clips requires the users to browse through several layers of WAP menus until they find and select the required clip to view. Using a TV-like channel, the viewing experience is more immediate, and resembles the experience of viewing the HBO channel on regular television.
2) To support on-demand viewing of clips, the operators need to install servers in their networks with enough capacity to support the number of simultaneous viewers who access on-demand content. Using loop channels, the server outputs a single media stream, which is distributed to the end users with a simple router, which is much cheaper. Therefore, it is more econonical for the mobile operator to package the content in a looped channel rather than on-demand clips.
3) Operators are preparing themselves for the launch of mobile broadcast networks such as DVB-H and T-DMB, which don't have the capability to provide content on-demand to each consumer. That's why they are starting to test the user response and business models of providing on-demand content as packaged loop channels today over cellular networks.
Looped broadcast channels is another example where the lines between broadcast and on-demand mobile video consumption are blurring, continuing the trend which I pointed in a previous post that discussed mobile PVRs and filecasting services.