Mobile DTV Hits and Misses: Washington Consumer Showcase vs. FLO TV

There is definite interest in Mobile Digital Television, fueled by strong demand for local programming including news and weather. That was the core message delivered by the Online Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) to attendees of this week’s CTIA Wireless Association Show in San Francisco.

The timing of the presentation is especially relevant given that earlier this week, Qualcomm suspended direct sales of its handheld FLO TV devices and will pull the mobile TV service from the market entirely by the end of the year. There are numerous theories why FLO TV ultimately failed: asking consumers to purchase a separate $150 device to watch mobile TV, charging a monthly $15 subscription fee and packaging content in episodic bundles rather than smaller vignettes that consumers can more conveniently “snack” on.

Ultimately, though, FLO TV’s downfall may trace back to what was originally considered one of its chief strengths — content. While it counted CNN, Discovery and ESPN among its portfolio of networks, it failed to offer live, local TV — the very product that the OMVC says participants in its Washington, D.C. Consumer Showcase are demanding above all others.

Of the 23 channels offered through the OMVC trial, which provided Samsung Moment cellphones with Mobile DTV capability to 150 selected participants, nine are local to the D.C./Baltimore metro. OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle demonstrated at CTIA that local news is the most popular mobile program in terms of both total episodes watched and unique viewers. This correlates to higher viewing patterns during the work week.

Also bolstering the case for local as a motivator of mobile TV viewing is the pivotal role it can play during emergencies. Response from the Moment online social community and focus groups affirmed to OMVC that Mobile DTV devices with live, local content were an “invaluable source of information during approaching storms and other public safety emergencies.”

As part of the Washington Consumer Showcase, OMVC also introduced Mobile DTV on Dell netbooks and is currently sampling it on LG DVD players as well. Results from both user groups are expected in December. BIA/Kelsey is supporting these initiatives in conjunction with Harris Interactive.

Washington isn’t alone in sampling Mobile DTV. More than 40 local nationwide broadcasters are currently offering the service, including stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

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