Mobile TV – who’s watching?

Despite regular predictions of mass market adoption of mobile TV, take up to date has been disappointingly low in the majority of markets. Since 2005, people have claimed that this (mainly streamed on-demand content) would be the killer application for the mobile phone. This failure cannot be attributed to any single reason and, correspondingly, it is unlikely that a single success factor will emerge.

Key barriers behind mobile TV’s to-date unremarkable performance, unsurprisingly, seem to point towards content, pricing and device. In terms of content, the main complaint is that typical services are based around uninspiring modified content which is often inferior in quality to conventional TV. This holds little allure for subscribers and it is delivered in a way that does not suit the mobile user.

While this might hold some sway if it were free, when users have to pay for what is essentially a significantly inferior service to traditional TV, it is little wonder that mobile TV hasn’t taken off in a big way. In terms of devices, while smart-phones with bigger screens make mobile TV viewing more palatable, a lot of basic devices, or devices with less than ideal screens that are out in the market, either are not equipped to receive mobile TV (in the case of broadcast services) or simply do not do it justice. Even for those subscribers who do have a phone that works with mobile TV and which has an acceptable screen size, one could argue that a mindset shift is required. And this needs to be supply-side driven.

In spite of these barriers, there is an increasing buzz around mobile TV. Freeform Dynamics’ research points to an increasing, albeit modest, propensity for the market to pay for services which, on the face of it, is good news for players in the market. Of course, in the world of increasingly accessible and often free video content via the internet, questions need to be asked about exactly what subscribers will pay for, when, in what way, and how much.

Mobile providers are starting to wake up to the fact that, if approached properly, there is potentially a big market out there. And, given the challenges they face in other parts of their business, they see the need to drive what will essentially be a necessary money-spinner. Mobile TV is already fairly well established in a number of markets – Italy, Japan and South Korea being the most cited. The models that have underpinned these ‘successes’ are quite different across the three countries, from free services, supported by advertising revenue, to pure subscription based services. As yet, it is uncertain which model, if any, will really drive the market.

Additionally, alternative models may also cause waves in the market, or at the very least, make people more aware that a genuine market exists and is accessible. Sling media, for example, has a box that allows subscribers to watch and control the content they view at home anywhere in the world, and provides an alternative approach to subscription-based services as offered by mobile operators.

The team at Freeform Dynamics believes that, despite there being a number of question marks around the subject, mobile TV will be an important part in the evolution of the industry, and sees this as an interesting area for study, and one that mobile operators increasingly need to be attuned to. We will be researching and reporting on the mobile TV market over the coming weeks, to look at how real the market opportunity is for mobile TV, how it will be brought to market, who the key players will be, and what the challenges will be along the way – including device, network, and customer interest. We will also review what the prevailing model(s) are likely to look like, and who will be the ultimate winners. Watch this space.

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