Mobile TV: To Be or Not to Be

One of the biggest themes of May’s Winning Media Strategies conference was how television and radio broadcasters can reach mobile users. This is especially opportune for television, given the growing segment of smartphone users with bigger and better screens.

At the heart of this opportunity are the efforts of the Open Mobile Video Coalition and other factions of the industry that are pushing for embedded chips that will allow mobile devices to receive broadcast signals. The thought is this: Everyone is talking about the need for advanced 4G and LTE networks to reliably stream mobile video — what about the technology that already exists to broadcast it?

Advantages include cost (cheaper than streaming), saturation, and a swath of available spectrum that recently freed up with the digital switch. The disadvantages — or I should say challenges — are both cultural and technological.

Getting mobile OEMs to embed broadcast chips in every phone is an uphill battle. More importantly, as we discussed at WMS and on a recent webinar, the world is moving away from live television viewing and toward more time-shifted on-demand television. The mobile broadcast proposition leans more toward the former.

Devil’s Advocate?

This is the subject of a WIRED article today that takes a decidedly negative view toward mobile TV’s chances of success in the U.S. From the article:

The vast majority of Americans simply prefer to watch television on large screens, and many of us have the technology to do so at our leisure. Those of us who are willing to watch on small screens demand better video quality and the ability to watch whenever we want, using time-shifting or on-demand technologies.

The article does raise some good points that echo our earlier ones. But this is more a call to act for the industry than it is a death knell. Also, a few factors are ignored here, in mobile TV’s defense. One is that storage costs continue to plummet, and we have mobile devices that can hold double-digit megabyte loads (this will accelerate rapidly).

This will allow broadcast content to be saved, queued and viewed according to user preferences. This adds “clip-casting” to the value proposition of simulcasting, and serves the cultural demand shift toward content pull. Think of it like a DVR for your phone.

Where’s the Money?

The jury is still out on ad support vs. subscription. I think it will involve both. Sports clip-casting will have a higher price elasticity and could therefore be a good candidate for subscription models. This is supported by the current efforts of mobile video streaming companies like MobiTV.

Regarding ad support, you can utilize the aforementioned storage to cache ads that are served through an application framework based on demographic, behavioral or location targeting. This will start with banner advertising, asserted NBC Universal’s Glenn Reitmeier at WMS, and evolve to video pre-roll advertising.

We have a long way to go but there is still lots of promise for broadcast delivered mobile video. There are meanwhile parallel efforts with radio (a whole different blog post). Bottom line: There are indeed lots of challenges to get there, as indicated by WIRED, but we’re not yet ready to claim DOA.

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