When Will Anyone Actually Watch Mobile TV?

When Will Anyone Actually Watch Mobile TV?

Posted by Stephen Wellman,
Aug 31, 2007 03:23 PM

With his post today, my colleague Eric Zeman raised a great question: Is anyone actually watching mobile TV?
If by that he meant people watching video on their iPods, yes, I see
many iPod users watching video. If, however, he meant people watching V
CAST and other mobile TV services that stream over cellular networks…

I don’t know. The carriers have never given us any hard data on adoption or usage of mobile TV services.

Verizon Wireless has offered some form of V CAST for the last two
years. The services started off with small clips of streaming video.
This year the carrier upgraded the service using MediaFLO-based
technology. V CAST TV is now available in 37 markets. And you know
what? I have yet to actually see anyone in a real-world situation watch
it.

Mind you, this is purely anecdotal, but until Verizon Wireless and
other carriers that offer mobile TV services, like Sprint step up and
give us some numbers, it’s all I have to go on. I live in New York
City. There are lots of people here. Many of the people in New York are
power-users of mobile technology. I see lots of people browsing the
Web, texting, using e-mail, playing games, etc. on their cell phones.
Heck this is one of the few U.S. markets where the iPhone seems totally
passe just two months in. Yet, given all this, I haven’t see anyone
outside of a wireless trade show or a press briefing actually use
mobile TV. I see people watch video on their iPods all the time. But
still, no V CAST, no mobiTV, no mobile TV.

I take that back. I did see someone try to watch some kind of mobile streaming video a few weeks back while riding on the LIRR.
The person in question kept slapping their handset and muttering swear
words at it. This user experience looked far from optimal.

A few months ago I attended a Mobile Monday dedicated to just this topic.
Despite the fact that most of the presentations had little to do with
mobile TV, I took away a few things. First, mobile streaming video is
still far from optimal. Even with solutions that improve quality, the
quality itself is… kind of bad.

The second was that the services themselves are, from a strict
usability perspective, pretty good. While that may seem like a positive
sign for the future of mobile video, it’s not. In fact, it’s a really
bad sign, because if the issue isn’t strict usability — i.e. this is a
cool service but it’s just not laid out well or poorly packaged — then
it’s likely the quality of product itself, i.e. the video is hard to
watch, that’s the real roadblock to adoption.

Let’s face it, mobile TV combines the worst aspects of mobility —
small screen sizes, lower bandwidth, and large amounts of latency in
data connections — with the worst aspects of streaming video, i.e.
poor video quality. That’s not a winning combination.

Now this doesn’t mean that I think that mobile TV is dead. I think the YouTube application on the iPhone
could point the way to a better mobile video experience. But this app
is a far cry from the model that Verizon and Sprint have been pushing
in the U.S., or the model that some carriers and broadcasters like the
BBC have tried in Europe.

Mobile TV has been around now for almost three years now and it
still far from ready for primetime. Am I being to mean to mobile TV?
What do you think?

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