Mobile TV is coming, eventually


6 Jul 2005

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Mobile TV will become a reality but not for another five years; even then, it will require mainstream phones, popular content and low prices in order to be a mass-market service, according to Forrester Research.

In its report, entitled The Right Model for Mobile TV, the firm said making a success of video on mobile phones will require a different approach than with other services – otherwise it will befall the same fate as Wap, with “lethargic” adoption levels among consumers.

Forrester has surveyed consumers and found little enthusiasm or demand so far for video on their mobile phone, with a high unwillingness to pay for such services and low desire to see such features in the next device they buy.

Ultimately however, Forrester has posited a scenario where commuters will be able to watch short clips when waiting for a train and then tune in to longer, half-hour programmes to while away a journey on public transport.

The firm said some of the elements for mobile TV are already being put in place, such as handsets loaded with video player software and high-bandwidth mobile networks that can cope with the traffic. On-demand video such as sports footage in clip format is available on some 3G networks today; other services such as news are available in a live stream. In addition, trials are under way to test the broadcast of live TV pictures to mobile phones.

However, broadcast live mobile TV will be “doomed” for several reasons, Forrester declared. 3G mobile networks are not available everywhere and unlike other 3G services, it won’t be possible to switch to an existing network to continue delivering TV. In addition, there are issues around technology standards that will delay the rollout of compatible phones, Forrester said.

High prices will also hinder uptake of TV services, as the processing horsepower needed for a device to display video will put the phone – initially at any rate – into a bracket beyond the means of most consumers.

A third sticking point is that deciding what content works will be a lottery, the report argued. “The unique attributes of the mobile environment will render decades of consumer TV viewing data irrelevant. While operators and content owners think snippets of regular TV’s broadcasted news, sports and weather are necessary, they are far from sufficient – and no one knows what will be.”

Moves to offer mobile TV are aimed at giving operators revenue streams besides voice calls; but to be successful, Forrester said all parties must “focus first on delivering a compelling, reliable experience that mobile users will clearly recognise as TV”.

Handsets must be attractively built and priced – affordable to average consumers and not just early adopters or gadget lovers, Forrester urged. Content with the widest possible appeal is also essential, nor should it cost too much. “Operators should not expect to charge more than €2 to €3 per month for a very basic package of six video channels and three audio channels,” Forrester advised, because such content would be accessible in other formats. Free content can also play a role in driving adoption, the report noted.

“Forrester envisions basic mobile TV service … will not differ drastically from the content on which it is based. But achieving success beyond this basic package will require a new kind of TV programming. Content owners must embrace mobile as a new medium and craft new experiences that tap the unique characteristics of the mobile environment.” A good example of this are the “mobisodes” derived from the successful TV series 24, Forrester said.

Other formats likely to help mobile TV break through are must-see programming that is only accessible via the phone, such as clips that continue a story, possibly using footage that was not shown originally. In addition, interactive experiences will provide plenty of opportunities for viewers to vote on a show or otherwise give their feedback.

Lastly, programme makers should not rely on the 30-minute slot that works in traditional TV; the mobile environment allows for more creative uses of time outside of that format. Using the example of a commuter on their way to or from work, Forrester opined: “Expect fast TV to fill short-time gaps – like when waiting for the next train to arrive – to complement longer programmes for more prolonged ‘dead’ moments such as during the 30-minute train ride.”

By Gordon Smith