Mobile TV Off To A Slow Or Quick Start In South Korea?
By Mike Masnick, Tue May 17 00:45:00 GMT 2005

It all depends on who you ask, apparently. Mobile TV has arrived in South Korea, but deciding if it's off to a fast or slow start seems to depend on your bias.

After a year's delay, South Koreans finally were given access to a new broadcast service beaming 7 channels of video content and 20 channels of audio content straight to subscriber mobile phones, all for about $13/month. Of course, there have been some questions about the demand for broadcast-style mobile TV. Mobile connected devices still seem to be more about connecting with others than passively consuming media, so many are betting that empowering personal media is the route to success for any sort of mobile video offering, rather than offering passive broadcast video.

With the launch in South Korea, though, perhaps there's a proxy market everyone can watch to see how mobile broadcast video will do elsewhere. Unfortunately, the initial results (and it is still quite early) seem to be showing that it's easy to prove any position, if you have no frame of reference. That is, while some are making the case that it's a big success, others are making the case that it's a failure.

On the failure side, we have reports showing that sales of TV-enabled handsets are noticeably below expectations. There are plenty of reasons for this, beyond a lack of interest in mobile TV. There's extremely limited handset selection (two at the moment, though, that should be expanding quickly) and the handsets that are available are quite expensive. Still, a smaller number of handsets sold suggests that the demand isn't as pent up as some believed.

However, at the same time, there are reports claiming that the 20,000 subscribers to the service in the first few weeks is a huge success, and actually demonstrates "a strong start." It seems a little difficult to reconcile "fewer than expected" handsets being sold with "a strong start," but perhaps it just depends on whose expectations are being discussed. Of course, the publisher of the claim that it's a strong start also happens to be the same analyst firm that has staked its reputation on the idea that mobile broadcasting will be "the killer app" of mobile phones -- and anyone who disagrees is simply a "naysayer." With that in mind, it seems like they may be inclined to look at any stats with rose colored glasses.

Whether it's a good or a bad start, 20,000 subscribers is significant. What will be interesting, however, is to see how this market develops over time. It's likely that more people will buy into it as there are more handset options (and those options get cheaper). However, what will be most interesting is to watch how usage changes over time. While broadcast style video may attract some users for the simple novelty of it, it seems like more interactive video applications are more likely to be sustainable over the long term.