But Does Anyone Want Mobile TV?
By Mike Masnick, Fri Aug 20 02:00:00 EEST 2004

A big project is underway in the UK to bring TV to mobile phones. The only problem: they forgot to ask the users if anyone actually wants it.


The BBC seems quite excited about a new effort in the UK to bring television to mobile phones by the year 2010. It's apparently a big project at Brunel University which is described as "ambitious." It certainly sounds ambitious. It's a one-to-many broadcasting system that will require placing special transmitters all around the country.

There's just one problem. There still isn't much evidence that people actually want TV on their mobile phones. Those involved with this project, however, seem to simply assume that it's obvious that everyone must want TV on their mobile phone. The article claims that TV broadcasts to mobile phone solves two problems: (1) bringing together TV and the internet and (2) creating a compelling application to drive 3G sales. Both of those are problems from the corporate side, not the user side. If the solution doesn't solve problems for the end-users, it's not going to solve problems for anyone.

While the article goes on about how efforts to combine the internet and TV have failed, no one seems to question why that happened. They simply assume that, for no clear reason, trying again in a mobile environment will correct whatever problem caused every previous effort to fail. The reason most efforts to merge television and the internet have failed is because people use them for different purposes. Television is a broadcast medium. It's for people to watch what's delivered to them. The internet and mobile phones are both interactive communications media. They allow people to communicate with others or proactively find information -- not passively receive it.

Already, there have been some efforts to offer TV on mobile phones. MobiTV has been signing up content providers and Samsung is working on offering satellite TV on phones in South Korea. Quality problems aside, there are questions about how much these offerings cost to run, compared to how much benefit in real revenue they bring back. To make such services worthwhile, they need to go well beyond just offering television on a mobile phone. Most people on the go aren't watching television for the obvious reason: they're on the go, doing something and not just sitting around where they can watch television. If they're at home, they have a much larger, much better way to watch television. There are a few exceptions -- commuting being a big one -- but it's not clear if that's worth such a huge project.

At the same time, if there's real demand, there should be other solutions that would hit the market long before 2010 when this is ready. Beyond the solutions mentioned above, telcos around the world are looking at delivering TV-over-IP, and as wireless data networks get faster, it's possible the technology could be adjusted for mobile networks as well. Meanwhile, in the last few months, there have been a number of different stories about phones that offer TiVo-like digital video recorders, or home based digital video recorders that let you move content to a mobile phone. In the US, TiVo just received permission to move forward with its TiVoToGo offering that would let users move television programming to other devices -- including mobile phones. These are solutions that are here now and put much more control in the hands of the end-users, rather than simply copying television and moving it to a mobile phone. There may be a place for video on phones, but spending all this money and effort to simply recreate the old broadcast system for mobile phones, with no real evidence of demand, seems like a waste of time, effort and money.