A Carrier That Might Understand Mobile TV
By Carlo Longino, Fri Feb 25 00:00:00 GMT 2005

A patent issued to Vodafone shows it might have an understand of the benefits of mobile television -- which aren't advertising or live broadcasts.

My skepticism of television over mobile networks is pretty well documented, and even analysts can't come to a consensus, with this week's report unconvinced of the true demand for television broadcasts to mobile devices. Announcements about mobile TV were plentiful at 3GSM last week, and Vodafone touted its mobisodes a few months ago around the time of its consumer 3G launch -- though this "made-for-mobile" content is little more than advertising for standard TV shows.

But Vodafone has been awarded a European patent that hints it -- or at least an employee there -- understands the real power of video over high-speed mobile networks lies not in broadcast TV, but in empowering personal media. The patent covers having a content provider send video to a device during off hours, then later send a signal that unlocks the video so it can be viewed, opening up a whole realm of possibilities.

Even with today's relatively fast networks, and forthcoming speed boosts like HSDPA, preloading content still makes a huge amount of sense for mobiles, particularly with big files like videos, but even for simpler content. The Vodafone patent sounds an awful lot like broadcatching applied to mobile, an idea that's going to catch on (no pun intended) in a big way. Users are going to love having the latest episode of a show waiting on their handset according to their schedule, and chances are, they'll pay for it -- if the pricing is right. And as it seems with everything in mobile content, that's a big if.

This is where the DRM mechanism mentioned in the patent is important. While DRM-free possibilities will carry on like they have on the wired Internet, DRM is a fact of life, for now anyway, for content providers to get involved. And while all too many DRM systems enforce onerous restrictions, users have also proven that they'll buy into reasonable systems, like Apple's iTunes Music Store. The system indicated in Vodafone's patent could be applied well, either via a subscription model or a one-off, per-episode fee.

Just as technologies must evolve to support the emerging mobile media landscape, so must the business models. Vodafone's patent shows some promise on both fronts -- but the proof is in the pudding in a mobile environment where operator and content provider track records aren't particularly promising.