Mobile TV’s second life

Date: Mon, 07/11/2011 - 18:41 Source: IBC press department

Broadcasters and producers are experimenting with strategies that stream on demand applications to mobile devices
Mobile TV’s second life Image credited to Siemens

Hampered by steep fixed costs, limited distribution and scheduled services that proved less than appropriate to small screen viewing, the first generation of Mobile TV has been superceded by streamed on-demand applications more in tune with the way we want to consume content on the go.
When Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany and Austria shuttered their DVB-H networks in quick succession last year it left Italy with the only successful service in Europe.
In the US, the DVB-H derived network FloTV was officially closed by Qualcomm last month when it offloaded the spectrum to AT&T for $1.9bn after struggling to amass sufficient subscribers. The nail in the coffin was the rise of wireless 3G which streamed video of similar quality to DVB-H to receivers built into a wide array of smart handsets, averting the need to deploy expensive network infrastructure. Understanding the way we consume and search for video online is critical to the way many manufacturers, broadcasters and content producers formulate their strategies.  Mobile may be the smallest platform for TV consumption compared to a PC or even games console but its projections of growth are the highest, a rate that can only be accelerated by the introduction of tablet PCs.
Western Europe’s mobile TV revenues amounted to $1.04bn last year rising to $1.5bn by 2015 (Juniper Research). The number of users of streamed or broadcast services to mobile handsets in the region will rise to 51.2m from 19.3m in the same period. That figure excludes tablets which according to another researcher, Park Associates, will exceed 68 million in world sales by 2015 over half of which will include 3G connectivity. YouTube alone amasses 100 million video views a day worldwide, not least because a link to the site is embedded in Android and iPhones. Live broadcasts will remain part of the content mix but programming has coalesced around sports and news. Meanwhile on-demand content is rising, accessed increasingly via downloadable applications which offer a better viewing experience than via the web.
A case in point is the BBC iPlayer which began as a web service and is now being pushed into app form as a precursor for launch into international markets as a paid download.
In the UK, viewing on Android phones leapt 228% in 24 hours following the launch of an iPlayer app in February while iPlayer views on iPads rose 21% across the whole month. While mobile devices accounted for 6% of total iPlayer views in 2010 (up from 1% in 2009) this statistic is expected to look very different a year from now. To date the BBC is the only UK broadcaster to make its catch-up programming available with a custom app, although ITV is planning to launch ITV Player across mobiles and tablets this year.
PayTV broadcaster Sky also offers a broad range of applications, including Sky Mobile TV which bundles eight channels of news, entertainment and sports content for its subscribers.
While the video distribution of TV is kept largely within a broadcaster’s main portal (Sky Mobile, iPlayer) there are a plethora of apps surrounding particular programme brands. Often these perform a marketing support function and have a short life cycle although they can also be money spinners with gaming apps, particularly those built around game shows, proving easiest to exploit.  In part, thanks to Apple iTunes, a culture of pay on mobile has formed, in contrast to the culture of free on PC, and in part because apps are remarkably cheap to create. While apps can cost as little as €5000, each one will have to compete in a cluttered marketplace - iTunes contains over 250,000 apps – which is why apps affiliated to an internationally distributed brand stands a better chance of success.
Mobile phones have long been important as an enabler for phone voting but the opportunity to engage fans with realtime interaction on mobile devices through social media is also now being explored.
The arrival of tablets, with larger screens and in-home Wi-Fi connectivity, is predicted to make two-screen interaction,  particularly around the large reality show formats, soar.
Scheduled broadcasts to mobile phones may however have a second coming since digital terrestrial broadcast standard DVB-T2 provides another opportunity to deliver content to mobile. There are also optimistic noises being made for a new technology in trials with O2, Orange and Vodafone in the UK. IMB enables the broadcast of live TV channels using previously unused parts of the 3G or 4G spectrum. The advantage to mobile operators is that this spectrum is already part of the 3G licences held by many of them in Europe.  Analysts, however, are sceptical suggesting IMB will need further investment in infrastructure, a risk that operators already burnt with 3G may be unwilling or unwise to take. The long term solution may be strengthened Wi-Fi networks which are fast penetrating homes and retail areas or 4G, a higher performing cellular standard currently limited to urban centres.
Understanding the way we consume and search for video online is critical to the way many manufacturers, broadcasters and content producers formulate their strategies. This hot topic, branded Connected TV and Devices is part of the IBC2011 Conference programme where it will be analysed in detail.

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