Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Different Approaches to "Mobile" TV

The BBC looks at the "future" of mobile TV via 3G, including comments from Endemol people and from Nokia.

Endemol seem very excited, and are perhaps on the right track by aiming at quiz shows and -hum- reality tv shows. There are some stats for mobile TV usage in the article, which indicates the kind of audience they should be targetting: "Orange found that ... 36% watching its service [sic] during lunch and other breaks. Some 18% watched TV while travelling to and from work, 12% while queuing or waiting for friends and 10% watched it at home." - in other words, mobile TV is mostly a time-killer. I would say this is true, and what separates it from being "TV on your mobile", as it were. Usage patterns are different, which means that formats and contents need to be different. Marlk Selby of Nokia compares selling mobile TV to selling mobile web access, and while he says the former may be easier, there's certainly a similar shift in understanding needed to get from a large screen format to a small one.

This quote, near the end, though, just makes my eyebrows go all wobbly...

"3G has capacity limitations and if two or three people in one place are receiving a TV picture, you can't make a phone call," explained Mr Sharp.

Ouch. This is effectively a Denial of Service against the main purpose of telephones then - a handful of people accessing a few video feeds sounds like it might kill voice access for anyone near them. The "one place" aspect is fairly vague though. Does a whole road count as a "place"? An office block? Given that the only way this is really going to take off is if a certain length of time (not data - consumers don't want to understand compression algorithms) is pre-paid, it sounds like you could render a busy area 3G-less with a small number of flat-fee handsets. Ah well, there's still landlines :)

It's also great to see Nokia breaking out into the world of "mobile" television. Now that they've gotten away from using the phone as a starting point, and moved more towards mobile computing devices, their new products are looking promising - indeed, I'm not sure when it's arriving but I'm looking forward to the delivery of a new Debian-based Nokia 770 to hack around with. If only 10% of people watching TV on their mobiles are at home, then devices like this could be pretty big - indeed, why bother paying for 3G data when you have a flat-fee wireless broadband access point 3 metres from you? If I had to bet on either Nokia's or Endemol's ploy, my money's already on the former.

Finally, missing commas lead to a faintly amusing quote from the article...

"One solution said Mr Bazalgette could lie in advertising."

Should the BBC be condoning such blatant flouting of advertisement honesty law? ;)


phil jones said...

My guess is that the right format for mobile TV will be something that apes the way people are using mobiles.

So think video clips that arrive to subscribers as though intercepted video-messages sent from one soap-opera character to another.

I so hope the TV industry are clueless and this will be a continuing non-event. But the idea that they're even *thinking* of streaming strategies that d.o.s. the telephone network scares me.

Scribe said...

I find it strange that the first/nigh-on only use being thought up is sporting highlights. (OK, and perhaps music videos too.) Maybe I'm clouded by too many comparisons with the Japanese market, but who's the main mobile phone "early adopter" crowd here? In my mind, you have the technoheads who want to play with the tech (but who can't/aren't), and people that like to be chatty - in fact aren't there figures somewhere suggesting women send more texts than men? Ah, would need to look that up...

Anyway, point being that the people they have in mind when coming up with this stuff may not be the people who are most likely to get into the idea.

I quite like your idea of mimicing the format, but don't see it having too many uses...

Also interesting that the BBC really haven't touched the idea yet - maybe the market structure of the phone network restricts them or something. Still, with things like news and parliament channels, they probably have access to the greatest range of possible ideas available. Streams that rely on audio (e.g. news) more than video (e.g. football with its tiny white dots as a focal point) strike me as being quite attractive. A list of currently available news clips, for instance, might work well, but the fact that I've never seen this promoted for 3G just reinforces my theory that the phone industry has no idea what it's doing...

BTW, this post slowly tapped out letter by letter on the Nokia 770 mentioned in the post... More info on how I'm getting along with it soon, I hope.

Scribe said...

Also relevant is this BBC article on the rise of mp3 and video portable players.

MP3 players got sold because people could put their own music on them, and iTunes jumped on the back of that, I wager - there's not much demand for a device you can only download tracks to, and that you can't put your own music on. Similarly, music phones need the same functionality, and buying music to your phone (with the exception of ringtones) is an "add-on".

What's relevant here is the mention of the increase in video players. Up until now, there hasn't been *that* much personal storage of video - not in the same way that mp3s took off acter the introduction of Napster. Most people still watch things either from DVD or from the TV. But personal video players that let you play your own videos may change this, creating a demand for video being stored on PCs (i.e. encoding your own DVDs (probably illegally)).

Perhaps this is what's needed to kickstart the mobile TV industry - the decentralised, personalised, free (and probably illegal) transfer of content via broadband + USB. After that, downloading videos becomes another "add-on".