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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mobile TV: good idea..... but will it work?

There seems to be a groundswell of naysayers around Mobile TV. I've been at a couple of conferences recently where the mantra of "why would anyone pay for it?" seems to have been chanted.

Is it a technology in search of a market?

I actually think these observers may have it the wrong way round. For me, it's one of the few recent inventions in the mobile business that actually seems to make sense. People know what TV is, and many of them pay for it already, so they understand intuitively about mobile TV.

The marketing message is pretty simple "It's telly. But on your phone" . Job done.

Contrast that with, say, the MMS proposition, which is trying to train users to do something utterly new:

"Yes! You can take lousy low-quality images, compress the living daylights out of them further, put them in a cumbersomely-constructed message, and spend lots of money to send them to someone else, who might occasionally receive them OK. No! Don't just upload the image to a PC and email it for free more easily instead"

Or Push-to-Talk:

"Yes! It's Voice-over-IP! But you pay more for it, not less! And, er, don't ask us about the latency"

And I'm still unconvinced by the whole download-music-over-the-air thing as well, but at least the idea is relatively easy to understand, even if the pricing is silly. (But at least it's only a factor of 2-3x silly, so that's not too bad, when you consider that international mobile data roaming is often priced 10x-1000x silly)

So, for once, I'm a believer. Mobile TV makes sense, conceptually. People will "get it". I don't know if I'd use it personally (I don't pay for cable or satellite TV at home), but I can understand the millions who might want football / soaps / news / "adult" content on their 2.5-inch screen.

One fly in the ointment, though.... (leaving aside the usual theme of handset price & user experience) is in-building penetration. I did a quick scan of some studies about DVB-H and the general consensus seems to be that if you want decent indoor coverage, you'll need transmitters on cell sites as well as existing TV transmission towers. Which changes the cost of deployment very significantly. I haven't had a chance to find out if Qualcomm's Media-FLO and the satellite DMB approaches have the same shortcomings yet.

Bottom line in this case, for me at least, seems to the reverse of the usual:

Is it a market in search of a technology?

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