Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Ups and Downs of Mobile TV

Mobile TV has always been a controversial issue. The big players who sell handsets, network equipment and mobile services, keep taking the optimistic side, and pushing the analysts in that direction. On the other hand, there are always people who ask "Who would like to view TV on a a tiny screen, and pay for it?". In the last few weeks it seems that the debate is shifting more to the negative side, especially when discussing subscription-based mobile TV services.

Still on the optimistic side, Juniper Research is predicting that the number of users who receive mobile broadcast TV services will increase from 12M in 2007 to 120M by 2012, with service revenues expected to exceed $6.6B. And France is pushing forward with the introduction of Mobile TV services in the summer of 2008, just in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The launch of DVB-H in France during 2008 follows the introduction of DVB-H in Italy during the 2006 Soccer World Cup, and in Finland during 2007. While the Italian service enjoyed a high adoption rate initially, the latest reports show that service uptake has flattened. And the service in Finland was stalled for several months due to the lack of compatible handsets and compelling content. The situation in Europe is quite inline with Gartner's recent survey, which found that only 5 percent of European subscribers are interested in watching video or TV on their phones.

Industry analysts have also shifted their positions in view of the market situation, demonstrated by the discontinuation of mobile TV services offered by Virgin and BT Movio in the UK, and by Modeo in the USA. The EE Times says that Mobile TV chip makers "struggles to hold on", as the market has proven successful only in countries that offer free-to-air broadcasts (Japan and Korea). Stephen Wellman from Information Week asks "When Will Anyone Actually Watch Mobile TV?", claiming that small screens and poor marketing have probably killed the service, although service providers in the USA don't reveal any numbers.

Mike Masnik at TechDirt writes about "The Ongoing Blind Belief In Mobile Broadcast TV", stating that mobile users don't have the time for watching broadcast TV programs, and would prefer short video clips on demand instead. He also says that people can broadcast their own TV from home, and watch it on their mobile device using a SlingBox and an unlimited data plan, meaning they don't have to pay mobile operators for such services. Indeed, the introduction of SlingPlayer Mobile for SymbinOS is likely to be a disruptive move in this direction. Russel Shaw at ZDNet takes the same position, claiming that "Mobile TV is So Overhyped".

So what's your take on the future of mobile TV, and in particular subscription-based Mobile Broadcast TV services? Please comment on this post to voice your opinion.

1 comment:

Amitabh said...

It is now December of 2007 and the status of mobile TV has not changed significantly. EU has managed to recommend ( rather than mandate) a single standard for mobile TV( DVB-H) and China has now firmed up its own home grown standards. Other countries are in the throes of licensing process, spectrum allocations or technology selections. None of the developments has focoused on the basic fact that users need to have compatible handsets to watch mobile TV and that such handset may be numbered unless the process is made more streamlined. If I have just bought a P1i handset I would rather wait for 3G than buy another phone for DVB-H.having multiple standards will split the still small handset market of compatible handphones.
It does appear from this imbroglio that a WiMAX based TV solution, working universally on most handsets within 2 years will be the winner. The "mobile TV" chipmakers really need a "big bang" introduction of services in a country to see the volumes go up sufficiently to reach a critical mass which makes it attractive for content providers and operators alike. The only one we can see happening is in China in 2008, that too due to Olympics and single standards. perhaps this provides us something to think about.

Amitabh Kumar