Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 15:35 UK

Mobile TV 'very slow' to take off

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Person watching TV on mobile phone
Industry insiders say mobile TV uptake has been a disappointment

Mobile TV has so far failed to deliver on its promise of ubiquity, but analysts now expect worldwide user numbers to soar.

They predict that the number of people watching free-to-air analogue TV on their phone will be 54 million in 2009.

By 2013 they say those numbers will increase to around 300 million with the biggest growth in emerging markets.

"Mobile TV is just not as big a deal as we all thought it would be," Frank Dickson of Reed Business told the BBC.

"The idea combines the two biggest things around: TV and phones. Everyone has a TV and everyone has a mobile phone. So of course the industry thought the prospect of bringing the two together was going to be huge.

"In reality, live mobile TV has been very slow to take off," explained Mr Dickson.


The study was conducted by In-Stat, which is part of Reed Business, and Californian chip maker Telegent Systems. It revealed that mobile TV users watch at least three times a week, with 20% watching daily.

Two-thirds of respondents in the white paper said they watched mobile TV for 30 minutes or more on the days they tuned in.

By comparison, in the leading markets of Japan and Korea, viewers are glued to their third screen for over an hour.

Michael Jackson's family
The Michael Jackson memorial was peak viewing at home and on mobiles

Flo TV, which is owned by the wireless company Qualcomm, agreed that the amount of time people spend on mobile TV has surpassed the early belief that users would consume content in five-minute "snacks".

"No one expects mobile TV to be watched eight hours a day like a typical household watches at home but this 30 minutes is a very meaningful figure," Jonathan Barzilay, Flo TV's senior vice president of programming and advertising told the BBC.

"We have seen tremendous spikes in viewing for live news and sport. The Michael Jackson memorial service was the highest watched programming for Flo TV. Prior to that the presidential election was record-setting for us.

"We continually see huge spikes for sport; for football, basketball, baseball and the like. People clearly want to stay connected even if their lifestyle requires them to be at work, or travelling or on the sidelines of a kids soccer game," said Mr Barzilay.

In its most recent Three Screen Report, Nielsen found that the estimated 13.4 million Americans who watch video on mobile phones average 3.5 hours of content compared to the three hour average for internet video.

Nielsen however said that mobile viewership is flat from a year ago when about 13 million people watched videos on their cell phones.

It reported that this is partly down to the fact only about 18% of the 270 million cell phone users in the US have smart phones like the iPhone, BlackBerry or Nokia N97.

'Free is compelling'

Industry watchers believe analogue TV will win over digital TV on the smartphone, especially in developing countries.

"Analogue mobile TV accounts for the majority of the world," said Mr Dickson.

Man looking at mobile phone in China
Developing economies offer a huge potential market for mobile TV

"While we tend to focus on digital in the more industrialised nations where they are turning off the analogue signal, in the lesser developed economies they don't have plans to switch to digital.

"As a result we see a strong uptake of mobile TV in Latin America, Central Europe, Africa and China," explained Mr Dickson.

Telegent Systems said the research showed that more than 85% of the world's population will continue to have access to analogue signals for the next several years or longer.

"The success of the free-to-air mobile TV is the result of two primary drivers," said Telegent ceo Weijie Yun.

"The fact that the content that consumers view is the same broadcast as what they watch on conventional TV. And two, the universal coverage enabling consumers to watch it in almost every corner around the world," he said.

Mr Dickson said he believed for mobile TV to really take off, it has to offer free-to-air content.

"When we can get TV on our handset which is funded by advertising instead of subscriptions, we see a strong uptake. At the end of the day, nothing is more compelling than free," said Mr Dickson.

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