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Figuring Out Where Mobile Television Is Going

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

A party of five representing TV and cable networks and a diverse sampling of distribution providers failed to collectively define mobile television as it exists today or where it is going at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment convention in San Francisco last week.
All agreed that more needs to be done to inform large swaths of mobile subscribers who are in the dark about the ability to watch TV on their cell phones. Indeed, they roundly admitted to the snafu the market finds itself in.
“I think the business model for mobile is a very dubious one. I don’t think that mobile TV as a stand-alone service is going to be viable either now or in the future when it’s considerably bigger,” said Roy Isacowitz, marketing director of IP and mobile TV at NDS. “I believe that the future of mobile TV is only relevant as an overall entertainment package.”
Mr. Isacowitz said a substantial number of consumers will refuse to pay more than once for television. Plus, there’s a certain irony in the fact that mobile TV providers are targeting a certain demographic with broadcast linear services, even though that demographic is rejecting that model at home.
Worse yet, many don’t even know it exists.
Ray DeRenzo, VP of business development at MobiTV, said, “Eighty percent of the population doesn’t know you can watch television on a mobile device.”
Because of that, he believes, “One of the greatest things to happen to MobiTV is the iPhone. … They’ve probably done more for the category as a whole.”
The executives agreed that simplicity is paramount to driving adoption, but forces coming at them from all sides continue to weigh on the market.
Ron Lamprecht, senior VP of new media at NBC Universal Cable, argues that consumers already are used to paying for the same thing over and over again. Plenty of TV viewers purchase single episodes online or entire seasons of shows on DVD after they have aired, he said.
“I don’t think mobile TV is necessarily a substitute for watching TV at home on the couch, but it can be complementary,” said Douglas Craig, senior VP of digital media operations at Discovery Communications.
Because the format is still far from delivering on the promises its backers boast of rather matter-of-factly, the industry needs to be cautious about how it explains mobile television to consumers. “There are a lot of moving parts,” Mr. Craig said.
Mr. DeRenzo of MobiTV said that what defines mobile television will evolve for many years to come. “We’re in kind of this evolution of business models,” he said.
“At the end of the day it has less to do with networks and more [with] consumer experiences,” Mr. DeRenzo said. “We believe that the best solution will be one that skillfully blends different technology types.”
The content and network gangs are up to their necks in technology.
“I don’t think the world needs 12 or more mobile broadcast standards,” Mr. Isacowitz said. “In my view the mobile TV industry could have been a lot further advanced, but it’s being choked by over-regulation and over-standardization worldwide.”
MediaFLO USA is one of those standardized choices. “We see that people consume content in different ways,” said Jason Kenagy, VP of product at the company. “We’re experimenting a bit. It’s a little bit early to say exactly what it’s going to be.”
Mr. Kenagy said MediaFLO is determined to deliver a simple, TV-like experience.
“It’s a very simplistic experience, and we think that’s important for consumers to understand this and adopt this,” he said. “It’s also not exactly like TV yet.”

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