Let Us Evangelize New Services, Say Broadcasters
By Carlo Longino, Tue Sep 28 22:15:00 GMT 2004

UK broadcasters are pushing mobile operators to improve both the service they provide for interactive TV and the revenues they share. The TV companies say in return, they can help push new services.

Text-message voting has become a ubiquitous part of modern television, and it's become a significant revenue generator for TV production companies, networks and mobile operators -- ancillary television revenues, which include interactive services, grew to GBP 951 million in the UK alone in 2003, according to a government report. But producers and broadcasters have organized a group to lobby mobile carriers to improve the delivery of their messages and other issues, adding to a long-standing push to reduce the cut carriers take from premium-service revenues.

The TV companies look to be putting a velvet glove over their fists, however, pointing out the bad publicity that accompanies the finale of nearly any reality show involving an audience vote when users inevitably complain their votes weren't properly tallied. But Jane Crossley, the head of mobile at broadcaster ITV, says that the companies can also "act as evangelists for services like MMS and 3G," New Media Age reports. It's easy to add in an "interactive" element with SMS, either as a voting or quiz mechanism, but the interactive value for television in MMS and 3G is less clear.

Part of the reason SMS has succeeded on TV is because it was a popular form of interpersonal communication in many markets before producers started building it into their shows. On the other side, in the US, many TV shows, American Idol most notably, have promoted text messaging but haven't had a massive impact on its wider uptake, so producers could be wagging the dog with MMS and 3G.

Besides that, how exactly will they evangelize? Porting TV shows and concepts to MMS isn't new, and hasn't set the world on fire, nor has simply asking users to send in picture messages. Crossley has previously mentioned MMS voting, and says it will likely launch in the fall, but it remains to be seen exactly how it will work, and why users would want to pay premium prices to use it.

Repurposing TV content to mobiles doesn't really look like the answer to getting the public more interested in 3G, either. 3 is pumping its deal with Fremantle Media (registration required), the producer of uber-judge Simon Cowell's latest talentfest, The X Factor, to deliver unaired footage of the show to its 3G subscribers as a "landmark", but one of the carrier's execs concedes that its new subscribers have been attracted more by its cheap rates than its exclusive video content. Is the desire to watch Cowell blast yet another tone-deaf performer worth the extra cost? It's not interactive, and really doesn't sound too interesting.

While television shows could help generate interest in new mobile services, too often producers' idea of interactivity has less to do with any real interaction and more with separating viewers from their money. Operators should be leery of this, since offering users little in return for the cost of a premium-priced service is an easy way to kill off users' curiosity and interest. One of the most commonly cited reasons for people's disinterest in MMS is its high cost, which implies they don't see it delivering value equal to its premium cost over SMS. Until TV producers can offer some interactivity that will get over this hump, and engage users with new services at what they perceive as a reasonable cost with a positive value proposition, carriers might be wise to let their offer of evangelizing walk on by.