Cellphone Navigation Topic A

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Mirroring one of the challenges the television business faces as TV content continues to multiply, the nascent mobile television space is just now beginning to grapple with creating better and more efficient navigation for cellphone video.

Interactive program guides, improved video-on-demand menus and search functionality across all kinds of TV content are issues TV technologists and service providers are confronting; now the mobile phone space is facing them too.

This budding notion of “discovery of content” was a pervasive topic at last week’s NATPE Mobile++ conference, which drew about 800 people, up from 320 in 2005.

It’s also one of the biggest stumbling blocks the mobile TV industry faces this year, said Raja Khanna, co-founder and chief creative officer for QuickPlay Media, a mobile TV technologist. His company and others, including MobiTV, GoTV Networks and InfoSpace, are working to develop better navigation capabilities for cellphone. That’s particularly important given the speed with which content providers are creating and unleashing new video for the third screen.

Currently, most mobile phone screens consist of a menu where the user scrolls through a long list of content, Mr. Khanna said. That’s a bit cumbersome and favors providers at the top of the list.

In fact, in today’s cellphone video world, that top spot is critical, said Bernie Gershon, senior VP and general manager for the ABC News Digital Media Group. “If it’s on the front page, you’ll find it. If it’s not on the front page, you won’t,” he said.

Mr. Khanna’s QuickPlay is working on refining that process so consumers can find video in several ways-personalized content, popular content and recommended content from friends, for instance.

Better mobile search is a major technical challenge, though, because of the sheer number of handsets, service providers and phone networks in use today. The key is to devise a system that wraps around all of this content. QuickPlay’s first steps toward this goal will come this year, he said.

Mobile IPG

Mobile video provider MobiTV, which has a package of TV channels carried on Sprint and Cingular, has developed its first interactive program guide for the mobile phone and is marketing it to cellular service providers. MobiTV expects the first market deployments by the end of this year, said Erik Smith, senior director of business development and content for the company. MobiTV counted 500,000 users at the end of September 2005.

“It will have a guide that looks similar to a TV guide for up-and-down scrolling,” he said. Today, MobiTV and other providers simply list the channels, but the program guide will include what’s actually playing.

Video search, which is a hot topic for the Internet as broadband video proliferates at an enormous rate, will also become essential for mobile TV, Mr. Smith said. While a program guide helps a user find what’s on, video search will also be necessary since it allows viewers to find specific content. MobiTV won’t implement video search on mobile phones until at least 2007, he said.

GoTV Networks, which provides content for cellular carriers, is working with mobile data company Medio Systems to add search functionality to its service later this year, said Thomas Ellsworth, chief operating officer for GoTV.

Online search directory InfoSpace is also looking to jump into the mobile search business, said Kieve Huffman, VP of content for InfoSpace. “Until it’s made a bit easier for people to find what they want and realize it’s there, we are probably a little early to make any judgment as to what works and doesn’t and what business models do and don’t work. We need to make it a lot easier for people to find what they are looking for,” he said.

While better navigation is useful, consumers do find content on their own, said Salil Dalvi, VP of wireless platforms for NBC Mobile. NBC Mobile has offered mobile TV content for two years and its made-for-mobile entertainment clips, titled “Entertainment Buzz,” rank in the top three of the 20 or 25 news clips per day that NBC offers on its mobile service. Yet NBC has not invested heavily in marketing that content, which suggests consumers are willing and able to simply discover content on their own, Mr. Dalvi said.

To better understand consumer behavior, NBC plans to conduct research on consumer usage of mobile video in the next year.