Mobile-TV vendors politely jockey for position

TV on mobile phones is still new enough to support many approaches, as carriers push to get short videos onto phones.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--The mobile-television industry is still very fragmented, but there's enough room for several different players on the dial, according to industry executives.

Mobile phone carriers are seeing enough interest in taking television on the go that they're considering a variety of ways to deliver sports highlights or comedy routines to phones. Video services, through companies like MobiTV, Qualcomm's MediaFlo subsidiary, or Modeo, will help those carriers increase the amount of revenue they make per subscriber, and make sure sports fans on the West Coast don't miss the kickoff of Monday Night Football, Paul Scanlan, co-founder and chief operating officer of MobiTV, said while launching the Mobile DTV conference Wednesday.

Phone makers and carriers have been talking about mobile television for some time, but most phone users still aren't catching music videos or news clips on their phones. Part of the problem is the plethora of companies and technology standards being used to deliver the content. MediaFlo networks are based on Qualcomm technology, while Modeo plans to use the DVB-H standard backed by companies like Philips, Texas Instruments, Nokia and Motorola to build its networks. Another company, IPWireless, has developed technology that works in spectrum bands already used by carriers.

At this early stage, the market is large enough to support several different approaches, Scanlan said. MobiTV wants to stay above the fray, working with several different network providers and hardware manufacturers to support dozens of different types of devices or networks, he said.

But if carriers are really serious about getting mobile phone users to tune in, they'll have to make it less complicated to pick a service, and also make those services very easy to use, executives said.

Mobile television must be very similar to home television to get consumers interested, said Jason Kenagy, vice president of MediaFlo USA. MediaFlo believes that people want to have a familiar way of changing channels or finding programs, but at the same time the experience needs to work well within the confines of a 2-inch screen, he said.

Three of the five most popular channels on MobiTV's service were created especially for a mobile environment, Scanlan said. People might want a familiar television experience on their mobile phones, but they actually watch much different types of content on those devices--short videos also called "snackable" content, he said.

Fast networks have been key to the success of mobile television in Korea, where wireless carriers have actually had to scale back their offerings to deal with demand, Kenagy said. Fast networks like Verizon's and Sprint's EV-DO (evolution data optimized) networks and Cingular's HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) network are just starting to roll out in this country. Without enough bandwidth, mobile television can be a tough sell, but MobiTV has been able to find some success with slower networks.

MobiTV just recently passed the 1 million subscriber mark for its service, which lets mobile phone users watch television on their phones through existing networks.

Of course, building those networks is an expensive proposition, which is why carriers are so keen on pushing mobile television, Scanlan said. "TV is the best way to monetize that network now," he said.

People seem to be willing to pay somewhere between $15 to $20 per month for mobile television, said Michael Schuppert, president of Modeo. "Pricing is a pretty hypercharged subject around this market," he said, as carriers are anxious to recover their expenses from building out networks, but consumers are wary about spending too much on an unfamiliar service.