Mobile TV – is it ever going to happen? Last year was said to be the year of Mobile TV in Europe with the Summer Olympics and the Euro 2008 football championships as the main audience pullers. It was not to be. By contrast, so far we’ve only seen failed launches and lukewarm consumer interest. And the DVB-H standard has yet to prove its worthiness.
In the USA Mobile TV has been around for some time in a number of forms, MobiTV being a prime example. A service, offered by mobile phone operators who sell the service, which uses their own cellular networks, as an add-on to their subscription packages.
This time, it is the broadcasters who are now trying to get into the drivers’ seat. About a year ago they formed the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) with the aim to establish a new standard for Mobile TV, which uses the existing frequency allocations of the broadcasters. A separate signal is transmitted with the regular broadcast multiplex of each broadcaster, which allows reception on mobile devices. Not only phones, but also dedicated portable receivers and laptops.
We’ve seen the same principle at work in the American radio spectrum. Rather than going for completely new standards and frequency allocation, as is the case with DAB in Europe, the Americans choose to opt for so-called in-band on-frequency solutions. This allowed the existing broadcasters to keep their frequencies and at the same bar the market for newcomers.
Now, the OMVC will launch their “Mobile DTV: Never Miss A Minute” service at this year’s CES. The new standard certainly has its advantages. It doesn’t require additional spectrum; it can prom the branding of existing (local) stations and the programmes are broadcast free-to-air. Also, the standard is nationwide, so people can travel across the United States and receive programming on their portable devices.
The big question will be: how will the mobile operators react? By offering the broadcasts free-to-air, they are cut out of the action. Since most handsets are sold as subsidized products with subscription packages, how likely will they be to offer sets with the new standard? Until now, the OMVC only consists of broadcasters and manufacturers, the operators are completely absent.
In Germany we’ve seen that this can be a dangerous concept. When the authorities issued the first DVB-H license, they did so to a consortium that included broadcasters, but not mobile operators. As a result, very few handsets were sold and the license has since been handed back.
On the other side, nowhere have mobile operators been able to construct a viable long-term business model for mobile TV, not even in Asia. Although research said that people are willing to pay a modest subscription fee for mobile TV, it is more likely that the free-to-air model will work best. Why pay for a product that is otherwise available for free? Although circumstances are different in each market, we will watch the Mobile DTV developments in the USA with great interest.