Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Live Mobile TV vs. Video Clip Push

Despite all the buzz surrounding mobile broadcast TV services such as DVB-H, T-DMB and MediaFlo, there is still a basic question that remains unanswered: Will users be willing to pay a monthly service fee to access live broadcast TV content on the go, when they are already used to on-demand access to video content using PVRs, cable TV VOD services, and the Internet? Mobile broadcast TV seems to be a step back in the direction of scheduled programming, in which the viewing time of each show is fixed, and not adapted to the user's own schedule. Since market research has shown that mobile consumption of video content is typically done in a "snacking" mode, each time the user has a few minutes to spare and wants to "kill time", the user might prefer to have video clips that interest him pre-downloaded to his handset, so he can watch them during these periods, rather than spend some of that precious time searching for something interesting to watch on the live broadcast TV channels.

As I mentioned in a previous post, two possibilities for watching TV programs on the mobile device when you want them are using a built in Personal Video Recorder (PVR) in the mobile TV handset, or using the filecasting service which is part of DVB-H and MediaFlo, and enables video clips to be "pushed" to the end user for offline viewing. Bamboo MediaCasting is offering another solution, which enables users to subscribe to video clip channels according to their preferences. These clips are "pushed" to the user over current mobile data networks such as GPRS, EDGE and UMTS in offline, and a smart client on the handset manages the required storage and the displays the clips. This enables operators to launch a service which is similar to the DVB-H "filecasting" service today, using their existing cellular networks and existing handsets. One of the advantages of the "managed push" service over streaming or user-initiated download is that the operator can control when to push the content to the handset - such push can occur, for example, during off-peak hours to balance the congestion on their network and reduce the cost of delivery. Nokia is offering a similar service called Nokia Media Charger, but it is only available on Nokia handsets.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Finland Awards Commercial DVB-H License

News published by Reuters yesterday confirms that the Finnish Ministry of communication has chosen Digita, a unit of French media group TDF, to provide commercial mobile broadcast TV to subscribers in Finland using DVB-H technology. Digita beat TeliaSonera and Elisa, Finland's two leading cellular operators, in this bid, and will hold the license for 20 years. Digita plans to start the commercial DVB-H service and cover 30% of the Finnish population by year end. The company also plans to sell network capacity to other service operators, as required under the terms of the license.

Mobile TV Market Forecast Roundup

This week was characterized by numerous mobile TV market research reports pouring in, each providing their own take on the current and forecasted market size. Unfortunately, the market research firms still don't provide a clear definition of what they include in their mobile TV forecasts: Is it just broadcast mobile TV using DVB-H, T-DMB, ISDB-T or MediaFlo, or do the numbers also include TV steaming over cellular networks, TV episode downloads, etc. Anyway, you can be the judge of the figures below.

First are the highlights of an upcoming Telephia market research report on mobile TV and video, which were published by cellular news this week. According to Telephia's report, 3 million wireless subscribers in the USA (about 1.5% of the total subscribers) viewed TV or video content on their mobile devices in Q4 2005. The report also found that the ARPU for these subscribers is $94, $40 higher than the ARPU of all American subscribers which is $54. While these results seem quite promising, the report also found that the increase in mobile TV and video penetration from Q1 2005 to Q4 2005 was only 0.1%.

eMarketer is also on the positive side this week, announcing their new report titled "Mobile TV for Marketers: Monetizing the Smallest Screen". According to eMarketer, the number of 3G subscribers who watch broadcast TV on their phones will rise from 4.2 million this year to 13.9 million next year, eventually reaching over 100 million subscribers by 2009.

UK Business Intelligence firm Datamonitor took a more conservative view on the mobile broadcast TV market. In a report published this week, Datamonitor claims that the growth of the mobile broadcast TV market will be limited by several issues, including spectrum allocation, expensive handsets, standards fragmentation and the competition with 3G video services. Nevertheless, Datamonitor still predicts that 69 million subscribers to mobile broadcast TV services in 2009.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mobile TV Device Update

A lot of news coming in on mobile TV handsets in the last few days, mainly due to the CeBIT 2006 exhibition which opens today. EE Times reports that Kitae Lee, president of Samsung Telecommunications, opened CeBIT today with a prediction that the global mobile TV handset market will reach about 6 million units this year, and that Samsung plans to grab 20% of this market.

Samsung is also showing an "Ultra-Mobile PC" (UMPC) device at the show, the type of device that caught the industry's attention in the last few weeks under the code name "Origami". According to a report by Engadget, Samsung's device will have an optional DMB (and eventually DVB-H) expansion module.

LG announced their first commercial T-DMB phone for Europe, which will be released first in Germany during May of this year. The device features a rotating 2.2" LCD screen, and claims a 3 hour battery life while viewing TV broadcasts. Two other mobile TV handsets which will be shown at CeBIT are the Sagem myMobileTV and the BenQ DVB-H phone.

Monday, March 06, 2006

China Mobile TV Forecast from In-Stat

In-Stat issued a press release today with some figures from its market research report on the Chinese mobile TV market. According to In-Stat, there will be 94 million mobile TV subscribers in China by 2009, with DVB-H being the dominant technology. This growth will be the result of the Chinese government push for widespread mobile TV availability for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

There have been numerous mobile TV forecasts in the past few months (see for example my post on a recent Northern Research forecast), but unfortunately the market analysts fail to define, in most cases, what they mean by mobile TV. Mobile TV could be defined as mobile broadcast TV services only (DVB-H, T-DMB, ISDB-T, etc.); it can include TV broadcasts on cellular networks (unicast and/or MBMS), and it can also include video clip download of TV shows, either over cellular networks or originating from a PC synchronization. Therefore, in order to enable comparison of different published forecasts, it is important that information distributed by the analysts will include their definition of the mobile TV market scope.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mobile TV Predications from Modeo CEO

CommsDesign published an article yesterday quoting a speech by Michael Schueppert, president of Modeo, at the DVB World Forum in Dublin (Modeo is the Crown Castle subsidiary which is deploying a DVB-H network in the USA). Schueppert makes some interesting predictions on the future of mobile TV, such as:
* In 3 years, the global Mobile TV market will be worth $3B
* Only half of the viewers will use cellular phones to access the service
* DVB-H and MediaFlo will succeed, but T-DMB will eventually fail
* Two media formats will coexist in mobile TV: H.264/AAC, and Microsoft WMA/WMV
* Voting in TV shows will be the most powerful interactive feature of mobile TV

Nokia, Canal+ and SFR Publish Results of Paris DVB-H Trial

The results of a DVB-H trial held in Paris since last September were published by Nokia this week. The trial showed that 73% of users were satisfied with the service, and 68% were willing to subscribe to the service for 7 Euros a month. Average usage was 20 minutes per day, mainly at home but also when traveling and at work. News, music, entertainment and sports were the most popular content types viewed in this trial.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Place Shifting" as an Alternative to Mobile TV

One of the alternatives to "official" mobile TV services offered by cellular network operators or by mobile broadcast network operators such as DVB-H, T-DMB and MediaFlo, is to access the user's home TV channels using a mobile device. Companies such as SlingMedia and Orb Networks offer transmitter devices (or PC software) which connect to the user's home TV or set-top box, and transmit the TV content over the Internet. The content can then be viewed from a PC or laptop connected to the Internet anywhere in the world, or from a mobile device such as a PDA or cellphone. This enables users to enjoy their home TV channels wherever they are, without paying a subscription fee for the service (except Internet access fees).

A recent article published in Forbes suggests that operators aren't fond of this idea, since it competes with their own subscription-based mobile TV services, and they may block place-shifted TV packets on their networks in the future. This has caused a major debate on the TechDirt website.

Some operators do not see these services as a competition, but as revenue opportunities. Last year, Sprint embraced place shifting technology when it announced a collaboration with Orb Networks under the Sprint Personal Media Link brand, which enables Sprint broadband customers to access their PC media files from anywhere on the Internet. However, the collbaration does not apply yet to access from Sprint's cellular network.

Another aspect that should be considered is the legal implications of place shifting technologies from the content owners' point of view. While home viewing of cable and satellite TV is protected by strong encryption technologies using conditional access cards, the streaming of these programs over the open Internet by the place shifting technologies is only protected by a user name and password. In some cases, this may violate the user's service agreement with his TV provider. An in-depth discussion of this issue appears in RedOrbit.