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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006, 15:42 GMT
Mobile TV sports viewing is on the move
By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

A man watches TV on his mobile while waiting for a bus
You can watch your favourite team on mobile TV while out and about

Back in the mid-1980s, those with long enough memories may recall, there was a brief flurry in sales of pocket-sized televisions.

The idea was that there would be a revolution in television watching, with the latest Japanese technology allowing viewers to catch their favourite soap operas or documentaries "on the go".

For the TV-viewing football fan, it was envisaged you would watch Football Focus on your way to the match on Saturday and Match of the Day in the pub afterwards.

However, the reception was never any good and the ball was usually impossible to see, as the filmed-for-TV camera shots were those that were also used on the tiny screen.

Two decades later, the telecoms industry is still trying to come up with a winning formula to provide sports fans with action they can view "on the go" - only this time, the chosen vehicle is the mobile phone.

'Revenue growth'

Many analysts and insiders believe mobile TV is now poised to take off - after many false starts - in the same way broadband internet was roughly five years ago.

According to Juniper Research, the global market for mobile sports content and services will grow from just over $1bn in 2006 to $3.8bn in 2011.

It says key drivers will be the increasing availability of 3G services and support for high quality video, the globalisation of sport personalities and improved flow of digital sports rights for mobile distribution.

'Near live' is king
Names make news
Big announcements can generate heavy traffic
Demographics drive usage
Content must be formatted
Bundled contents require a depth of rights
Be aware of EU regulations
Source: Jacques-Henri Eyraud, Groupe Sporever

"All mobile TV trials to date have shown that sport on mobile TV will be a success story," says Kieran Mahon, media development manager at Vodafone.

"Sport on mobile TV has the capacity to generate billions of dollars every year.

"This will definitely be an area of revenue growth, although return on investment may not return in the short term.

"This is a market still in its infancy, so firms will need to have a long-term vision of where mobile TV is going."

Speaking at a Sport Business seminar in London looking at "big opportunities on the small screen", Mr Mahon also said sporting events could not merely be piped on to phones, in the same way as they are on to TV screens.

He said people would be far more likely to pay to receive content on demand, where and when they wanted it.

Female biathletes
Action from the Turin 2006 winter Olympics was packed for mobiles

"In an 'on-the-go' context, sport on mobiles will exist in a very competitive market - competing for the user's time and attention," he said.

"There is music, FM radio, games on mobiles and free newspapers, all competing for the consumer's attention.

"Users may also be preoccupied with other tasks. They need to be able to dip in and dip out, and get up to speed with what is happening with the sports event they want to follow."

He said with big match football, that could mean an alert to the subscriber, who could then watch the latest goal clip and some commentary or analysis, before returning to the task in hand.

However, Mr Mahon added: "Commentary may have to be of the more descriptive style found on the radio, not the style associated with football on TV."

Home viewing

Yet to date, it has not been easy to convince people that their mobile phones are for watching moving pictures, as well as phoning, texting and taking pictures.

Firms have already spent billions on technology enabling users to surf the web or watch television through handsets. But on the whole, customers are only using them for phone calls.

As well as breaking news, sport is the only content type that is still regularly consumed live
Kevin Quinn, Servecast

And other research has shown that a large proportion of mobile TV viewing is actually done at home rather than while out and about.

This is prompting many to consider whether using mobile TV might be best as an "added extra" to the existing sport offerings on television and broadband internet.

At Everton FC, they are trying to provide a mobile service that features audio, including clips and interviews of players gleaned from their obvious exclusive access to their own stars.

'Deep pockets'

In many other areas, the market for sport on mobile TV has yet to take shape.

Jacques-Henri Eyraud, of France-based Groupe Sporever, is a leader in sports mobile TV rights management.

He says that wireless operators have "deep pockets" and many of them may well be considering bidding for key TV rights themselves in future.

Vodafone 710 mobile handset
Vodafone 3G handset with mobile TV feature

"We are at the beginning of potentially a big battle between television companies and wireless operators over sports rights," he says.

He also indicated gambling on mobile TV as a possible area of future contention, with the European Union yet to lay down definite guidelines and many member states being opposed to anything that makes gaming more easily available.

But Kevin Quinn, head of sports and media at Servecast, a new media "sportscasting" firm which works with many leading football clubs, remains positive about the way ahead.

He says: "We are now where we were with broadband in 2001.

"The opportunities for sport on mobile TV are incredible. As well as breaking news, sport is the only content type that is still regularly consumed live."

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