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Mobile TV: Not for Me or Europe

March 5, 2007 12:00 AM

A friend who is no longer in the 18 to 49 demo was showing me her new cell phone, and I looked on with bemusement as she seemingly happily snapped my photo, ran some mobile videos and then, to my surprise, sighed, saying, "This blows."

She could do just about anything with it but get it to ring. She wound up taking it back and getting a phone that was just a phone. And that's how I feel about my own cell phone.

Now I'm a little relieved, as I sense an ebb tide about the potential of mobile television, even as content providers and advertisers feverishly scramble to float even more new cell phone TV offerings.

There was a great piece recently in the Chicago Tribune, "Mobile TV Customers Voice Quality Complaints." The article was not about gripes from American cell phone users but, more interestingly, from European cell phone owners. Remember, mobile video was introduced in Europe years before it came to this side of the pond. We looked like technology laggards.

The article cited a study from Naperville, Ill.-based Tellabs that polled 22,000 European mobile phone users. The vast majority said they tried mobile TV but dropped the service. Who knew? I sure didn't. The main reason was price, but about a quarter of the respondents carped about quality and reliability issues.

We still don't have mobile TV totally squared away here, either. Last week in the "Gadgets" section of the Wall Street Journal, a reporter did some test driving of some of the more popular mobile TV packages available. The report was pretty positive, but the reporter had her own gripes, albeit small potatoes.

But the mobile TV wave isn't about to stop until it hits your cell phone. AOL, according to published reports, is in talks to buy Boston-based Third Screen Media for $80 million. That start-up company works with large advertisers, ad agencies, newspapers and cable networks to create mobile ads.

And that's where I draw the line about what I want to see, if anything, on my cell phone. The category for mobile TV ad sales is slowly growing, representing a mere 2.6 percent of total ad spending for now, according to EMarketer. However, it's expected to grow by double digits very soon—by 2011.

I hope not. I find the notion of mobile TV intrusive, especially ads. And advertisers like Johnson & Johnson who use it should think about the ramifications. I don't know what your cell phone package is like, but I pay for a certain amount of minutes for incoming and outgoing calls. Does this mean I have to pay to watch an ad?

I don't know the answer to that question. And fortunately I don't need to know, at least for now, because my phone is pretty old and does nothing more or less than it was intended to do: make and receive phone calls. That's the way I like it. I even got rid of text messaging ever since some teenager misdialed me and I wound up paying for unwanted, disruptive messages from scads of language-challenged senders who appeared to be writing in pig Latin.

But I'm facing my own day of reckoning as I look wistfully at my cell phone, now recharging as it does every single day on what has become its respirator, trying to keep that menacing "low battery" signal from appearing, as it does ever more frequently.

I know the phone is probably beyond redemption. But like my friend, with her disappointing "Star Wars"-like phone experience, I'm looking for a cell phone that just rings. May the forces be with me.