Some Firms Too Bullish On Mobile TV

Usually Mike takes the task of bashing mobile TV stories, and I rise to defend mobile video, stressing that video is not necessarily TV. TV implies a broadcast service, such as we watch in our living rooms, and Mike and I don’t see why people would watch TV on their phones for high fees. However, a recent Reuters story is over the top and too positive on mobile TV. The article in question cites executive opinion that “full-fledged television could be the biggest mobile hit since voice calls”, but “full-fledged television” is exactly the kind of video that will most certainly flop on mobile phones. Broadcast TV, in its 30 minute or more chunks of scheduled programs, fits very poorly with the mobile usage environment. Imagine a 18 minute bus ride and a 30 minute sitcom – this is like a round hole and a square peg. The article cites analysts I respect, like Andrew Cole of AT Kearney, going overboard saying, “Mobile TV is actually the most important application beyond voice and messaging in phones.” Andrew, citing experience learned in South Korea, is wrong on this. As someone who has worked for the leading Korean carrier, I assert the South Korean case has shown us the cunundrum of mobile TV: while users like watching programming on their phones, they like it in unicast mode, but at broadcast prices. Unicast means Tivo-like personal control, but broadcast networks cannot offer personal control – these two factors have proven to be at odds with each other. SKT is addressing high costs by installing a satellite DMB network to broadcast the TV shows to all subscribers, thereby lowering the price to each individual…but this plan will, ironically, lose the personal (unicast) control. So far, no one has solved this paradox. Techdirt believes that broadcast of TV to mobile phones is a lame duck, and hardly likely to be a big money earner. Delivery of custom, mobile-centric, short, affordable, video content (music videos, news and sports clips, very short films, animations…) has a chance of success, but this is very different than “TV”. On-board storage is the key. In 2 to 5 years, with increased storage abilities in handsets and home PVR use, some form of mobile PVR link will emerge, and that will be the key to bringing a winning TV-type product to mobile phones.

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