Thursday, 24 May 2007

Is Mobile TV the new WAP?

Mobile TV is being touted as the next big revolution in the way we use our mobile phones. Wherever we are, we will be able to have live TV streamed to our handsets.

I'm seeing distinct parallels with the launch of WAP services on handsets. It was presented as giving us an Internet experience wherever we were. As we all know this was not the case and it fell very flat. Technical limitations on both the handset and the network meant the service was worse than Teletext.

Even today with the rise of 3G handsets and services, data from the MDA shows WAP traffic is stuck at around 16 million page impressions per month.

I believe WAP traffic will increase as discussed in a my previous post Mobile Internet, finally it's time has come but Mobile TV, are the networks really ready? Have they thought it through?

This came up on SMS Text News post recently where one of the contributors had found information that the Vodafone service can only support 15 users per mobile base station (BBC News - Mobile TV predicted to be a hit). That was fifteen, 15, midway between 14 and 16. Given how many people a mobile base station serves, surely that's a crippling limitation.

To top that the recent Vodafone ad campaign, 'Be a Train Potato' suggests we'll be watching TV on the train. Given that networks are unable to maintain a voice call on the majority of train lines around the country, how on earth are they going to maintain a stream video session.

Thirdly, and possible most importantly, people will naturally compare the experience with their televisions. Now I it's not fair to compare a mains powered, 28+ inch dedicated audio visual system with a 4 3 foot ariel mounted 2 stories up with a power constrained, multi-function device, but people will. Call it TV and they'll expect a TV like experience.

I understand the operators have a lot riding on this. People are becoming increasingly resistant to paying for mobile content so operators have to move to a subsidised model. Advertising and sponsorship around media content has worked for decades on TV, radio and more recently the Internet. People are comfortable with advertising around TV programs. But if the experience is a poor one they won't watch anything.

One option to improve the user experience would be to provide downloads that can be watched later like the Apple video iPods. This would greatly enhance the user experience. Data from m:metrics show increasing numbers of people are listening to music on their mobile phones so why not video. Unfortunately for the operator this is side-loaded, ie from a PC and not over the operators network.

In my opinion this is more in keeping with the viewer in control model that has been pioneered with podcasts. I'll download what I want and watch it when I'm ready on the train, tube, plane, wherever. The media owners should still be happy with this approach. They can offer their latest shows for online download, complete with sponsor's message or with a more direct revenue model. People may well watch them on their mobile phones but the operator isn't involved.

Removing the operator from the value-chain could actually increase the quality of the content available. One less entity taking the piece of the action means more money for creating the content in the first place.

So we have severe technical limitations, a user experience that is no where near the quality of the existing method of delivery and an alternative delivery mechanism that improves that experience as well as removing a link in the value chain.

What is it I'm not getting?

1 comment:

Peter Sorenti said...

Adam, perhaps the drive for mobile TV is coming from the operator's desperate need to find some way recoup the billions spent in purchasing 3G licences. It seems that they are trying to exploit a platform and infrastructure without the significant investment that is clearly needed to deliver on the 'TV dream'. I have to say that I agree with your view that using the mobile as a means of accessing material previously downloaded from a terrestrial delivery point and transferred to the 'phone is a more appealing means of achieving this goal. The limitation of this approach is clearly that the media is not 'current' (think breaking news type content) but whether people actually want it is debatable.