Technology Isn't What's Holding Mobile TV Back

from the wash-rinse-repeat dept

Nearly every single year of the past half-decade or so has been touted as “the year of Mobile TV”, the year in which the long-heralded service would finally break through and get widespread adoption. It didn’t happen in 2008, it didn’t happen in 2009, and while the upcoming World Cup is supposed to be a tipping point, we’re not holding our breath. What mobile TV backers don’t seem to realize is that regardless of whatever new technology they come up with, people just really aren’t very interested in mobile TV — particularly when it’s built on a linear, channel-based programming model that’s largely fallen out of favor for standard TV viewing. But that doesn’t stop the announcements, the latest being that a number of broadcasters are banding together to develop a new national mobile TV service using spectrum they control.

Some observers see this as little more than an attempt by broadcasters to head off the FCC, which wants to seize unused broadcast spectrum and refarm it for use by mobile broadband services — just like the FCC did with analog broadcast spectrum. So the broadcasters want to launch a service “to provide content to mobile devices, including live and on-demand video, local and national news from print and electronic sources, as well as sports and entertainment programming” — wait, doesn’t that sound like the mobile web? But they want to use a variation of the ATSC digital broadcast technology to set up their own closed system, and also go out of their way to say that the network can be used to deliver public-safety information during emergencies. But they still don’t explain just how they think they’ll build any interest in these services. Maybe getting that government handout based on spurious public-safety claims is their only hope.

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Comments on “Technology Isn't What's Holding Mobile TV Back”

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Free is a powerful price


But these free-to-air services have been phenomenal successes in Japan and Korea.

I’ve been the main guy to say mobile TV wouldn’t fly from a $12/month perspective, but free just seems to work…even linear. And then soon enough the phones will get storage cards that can PVR that shiznit right up.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Free is a powerful price

But these free-to-air services have been phenomenal successes in Japan and Korea.

That’s because Japanese and Korean workers sit on trains two hours per day on the way to and from work. In the US we drive and can’t really watch TV on our phones during that time. (Although I’d guess some would try.)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Free is a powerful price

Valid point. But given that the average american household watches 7 hours of drivel on their TV per day, you don’t think they would find time to watch same drive on their phone? They seem to turn on this jabber every chance they get.

Any waiting room, downtime, kids sports, stadium sports event, live sports events, fox news, headline news, and yeah, even public commuters. Americans love their crap TV. I think that’s lame, but it IS a market.

Leefe (user link) says:

Re: Free is a powerful price

I was going to say a similar thing. I spent 2008 in Tokyo, and have a nice phone with build in TV. Great for when your stuck in the train and your PSP battery goes flat.

Of course, as Ima Fish said, public transport is good there. So everybody uses it.

Though you can’t actually call anybody on your phone on the train. That is a social no no.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Mobile TV is here. My Zen is filled with TV shows. As are my family’s players. But that’s not what Mobile TV proponents want.

They actually want us to turn on our portable devices and all simultaneously watch TV programing, including commercials, under the old broadcast paradigm.

Those days are long gone idiots. We’re never going back to that. Ever. Even for a huge event such as the Super Bowl, because we’d watch that on our home TVs.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, are you suggesting that, somehow, the Japanese people using this don’t have Creative Zens, iPods, etc?

I might agree with you if this were a theoretical discussion, but the data is in. In markets where this was made available, it has been a big success.

Why? For one reason: it’s free. The second reason: it’s effortless – no planning ahead, no sideload, no sync, no sling over sketchy networks. I like all those things, and do them myself. But you won’t ever go wrong estimating that a sizable market is lazy and cheap, and wants things easy and free.

Chargone (profile) says:

what, exactly, IS mobile TV?

here, at least, with the standard channel selection being free to air and broadcast via radio waves, rather than cable, it strikes me that, really, only two things could be holding such a concept back: lack of demand and the non-existance of anything light enough to actually be portable which does not need an external power supply and is actually set up to receive TV signals. (plenty of things hit two out of the three, mind you)

i have a sneaking suspicion that lack of demand might be the big one…

come to think of it, video phones (no, not just mobile phones with cameras in them) seem to fall in a similar slot. the tech’s there, it’s a nice idea, but almost no one actually seems to want it.

the whole cable tv thing never made much sense to me either, unless it was using some sort of ‘pay per view’ set up rather than the usual liner channels, really…

well, that’s my thoughts on it anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Lack of demand could very well be true in this case. Then again most people don’t demand TV-out ports on their phones until they’ve had that feature. Perhaps there isn’t demand because most people don’t think about that as a valid option when looking for a phone? Nobody offers phones with digital tuners in the US, so it’s not going to be on most folks’ minds.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

RE:”the standard channel selection being free to air”

The digital broadcasts of HDTV in 720p or 1080p are not really a good fit with a mobile phone. You have to decode the signal with all that detail, and display it on a 4″ screen with a much lower resolution – wasting the decoding effort and the image detail.

The new digital TV for mobile standards being launched by broadcasters this year use more appropriate mobile resolutions, and are designed for battery-powered mobile devices.

REgarding lack of demand, as the comment above stated, how would we ever know? Not one digital broadcast mobile TV phone is offered on the market here, because the carriers won’t subsidize one. The market has no idea of the possibility. Your statement about demand is like asking people in 1999 about their demand for a PVR – no one knows what it is, so demand is zero.

However, for those willing to look outside the US, the Japanese and Korean examples illustrate that demand indeed does exist.

jeadly (profile) says:


In 2005 I participated in a consumer marketing focus group for Verizon’s V-Cast service. One of my piers in the group basically said “I like to buy the newest thing because its new”, but when my turn came around I told them I didn’t really see the point of tv on your phone, I spend enough time watching tv and I definitely wasn’t going to pay them more money to carry one around in my pocket. They seemed disappointed.

Leonardo says:

ATSC is a HOME RUN and a hidden gem

Carlo- ATSC is the global standard worldwide for Over-The -Air “OTA” Televison. The ATSC chipset costs about $10. Any PDA with this ATSC would now be able to receive OTA broadcast channels such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and whatever local channle programming exists in digital and in the case of the major broadcasters, HD better than your cable. And you pay $0.00. AT&T is promoting Flo with a $30 a months subcription. I would love to have the ATSC chip in my Nexus- it would be a monster add-on. This will take off and the technology platform for providing on-demand video and channels is a significant magnitude of improvement over the current wireless phone carrier architecture. What you do not mention is that the signal is robust to play on mobile device, laptop, and large TV screens so it is the ultimate convergence and provides the ability to play on alll screens with same signal.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Who actually watches video on your cell phone

The majority of people watching video on their cell phones is when they travel (distance themselves from the people around them), want to show something funny or disturbing to someone (the cringe factor), to show what they have done (accomplishments), link in an e-mail, or family videos. In the USA this is something that will be a basically unused service. People watch enough TV and are not going to pay again for a service they already have at home.

Anonymous Coward says:

“But that doesn’t stop the announcements, the latest being that a number of broadcasters are banding together to develop a new national mobile TV service using spectrum they control. “

I’ve posted this somewhere else, in response to what someone said, and I figured I’ll post it here, though it might be somewhat out of context.

“The government decides who can and can’t broadcast on what frequencies. They base their decisions on who can pay the most and since those who can pay the most have something in common, it allows those who have such a thing in common to censor the views of those who don’t have that attribute in common. They deserve to express their ideas as well. The merit of an idea is not based on whether one can afford its widespread communication. The government laws in place favor the views of those who can pay the most for the radio stations.”

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