Mobile Video -- But Not TV
By Carlo Longino, Mon Oct 11 19:30:00 GMT 2004

There's an obsession with getting television broadcasts on to the mobile device, but user-created video content offers far more potential.


Operators and device vendors are putting a lot of effort into getting live television onto mobiles, either with built-in tuners or streaming it out over the data network. While questions remain if people really want to watch the exact same broadcasts reformatted for the mobile device, and some 3G carriers admit their video offerings aren't attracting a lot of customers, one new study says that video over 3G could be as lucrative for carriers as SMS. That might be true, but only if the focus shifts from porting TV shows to mobiles, and to supporting and encouraging user-created video and multimedia content.

The buzz surrounding Podcasting -- combining an audio file with RSS to create a syndication system that automatically downloads the content to a subscriber's mobile media player -- has brought this up. Personally, I don't quite understand what all the fuss is about, since I don't have any interest in listening to people read their blogs. But someone pointed out to me that what makes Podcasting interesting isn't so much the content, but that it brings audio broadcasting (albeit in a fairly crude form) to the masses, letting anyone play DJ or talk show host. That's a good point, and it's on the right track, but it's hard to see Podcasting as little more than a speed bump on the mobile highway -- other technologies that deliver user-created audio and other multimedia content to advanced mobile handsets will quickly pass it by, because of device convergence, but mainly because of the immediate distribution it offers, rather than having to wait to sit an MP3 player back in its cradle to sync up with a PC.

This dovetails nicely with the continued popularity of weblogs, and makes it clear that the future of that medium is mobile. Blogs generally, though not always, tend to fall into two categories, those offering some sort of commentary on whatever topic, and personal sites people use to share what goes on in their lives. Moblogging to personal sites is already mainstream, with most popular blogging platforms supporting it. It's compelling because it offers readers an immediate and unmitigated way to share with the author in a moment or an experience, but it would be even more compelling when people can easily package and post not just images, but other multimedia content as well. The ever-present nature of the mobile handset makes it the perfect content-creation tool -- if operators, device makers and developers take steps to support them as such.

Things are already moving this way, with software like Lifeblog and Cogima Snap that simplify and automate the photo-sharing experience, and some companies, like Turkish developer Cosmorion, already creating software to link 3G video phones and blogs.

The mobile phone, at its heart, is a powerful communications device, not a portable television set, and this is its real strength. SMS first became popular as a form of person-to-person communication, not as a content delivery system, because it offered users a different set of benefits that in many circumstances made it a better fit for their needs than a voice call. Making it easier for mobile users to create compelling multimedia content, then expanding on the idea of Podcasting to refine its distribution, will deliver more success and more user satisfaction than repurposed TV clips, and the industry should realign its resources to to empower users as content creators and sharers, rather than just trying to make them media consumers.