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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Will mobile TV make moving viewing?
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A new mobile phone TV service lets viewers watch BBC One and ITV1 live on the move. Mobile TV is coming of age - but how well does it work? And will it catch on?

ITV1 on Virgin Mobile Lobster phone
Virgin Mobile's Lobster phone is the first to carry BBC One and ITV1
It is approaching two o'clock and on Neighbours, Paul is recovering from a shocking murder attempt and Karl and Susan are embroiled in a passionate affair.

I am on the bus with the new Virgin Mobile Lobster phone - the first to receive the main UK TV channels - in my lap.

The screen is only about 4cm (1.5in) wide, the picture is a little grainy and jerky and the sound is occasionally out of sync.

It is harder work to watch than a normal TV. But if there is something worth watching, it is definitely watchable.

The Virgin Mobile service, powered by BT Movio, carries BBC One, ITV1, E4 and a slimmed-down version of Channel 4. It is free on contracts over 25 a month - otherwise, users must pay for the phone and a monthly subscription.

It is the latest in a string of mobile TV launches, with a monthly fee the norm.

On Vodafone, the likes of Sky News and At the Races are live, alongside mobile versions of about 25 other channels - including MTV, Sky One and Nickelodeon.

Testing that service on the bus, a few teething problems and error messages prevent me watching Impossible Bridges - Denmark to Sweden on National Geographic and, more disappointingly, Lost Sneak Peek on Channel 4.

Coronation Street
Coronation Street fans can catch up with the action on some networks
I do manage to connect to the Paramount Comedy Channel - the picture quality is similar to the Virgin Mobile service, but unfortunately the show is not very funny.

Like any TV service, reception is key. The Vodafone system uses the 3G phone network, which covers 72% of the UK, while Virgin Mobile use the DAB digital radio frequency, which has 85% coverage.

Back on the bus the next day, the Vodafone service behaves and it is possible to watch Keith Chegwin hurtling around a cul-de-sac on GMTV.

Viewed on a mobile handset, it looks suspiciously like he is about to carry out a happy slap attack, but luckily he hands over a 10,000 cheque instead.

Orange, Three, O2 and T-Mobile have also launched mobile video services, with most operators now offering a choice of channels and downloadable video clips.

On Orange, clips of comedy shows like Little Britain and The Office can be downloaded for 50-75p for less than two minutes. A Coronation Street catch-up, meanwhile, costs 25p for a one-minute round-up of last night's action.

'Snackable' shows

Escaping into a bit of comedy or catching up on last night's TV on the way home is an attractive option. But regularly whiling away my bus journeys this way could become an expensive habit.

Snacking is a word often used when describing mobile TV viewing habits, and "snackable" shows are considered by many in the industry to be the way ahead.

Commuting and lunch breaks have been popular times for people to tune in on their handsets, while some also use them as back-up TV sets at home.

But mobile TV is really expected to draw in the viewers when a big event - such as a major news story or a Big Brother final - is on.

It's just a way of untethering your TV experience and complementing what you've got at home
Nick White
Virgin Mobile
"It is partly when you're out and about and not at a normal television, then you can dip into stuff like that," says Vodafone's Jonathan Bill.

"But equally we also see quite good usage when people probably would have access to a TV - in the evening as well."

Nick White of Virgin Mobile says customers will use mobiles to watch the end of programmes after they leave the house or catch the start of a show before they get home.

It is an "extension" of the normal TV experience, he says. "In no way is it a substitute. It's just a way of untethering your TV experience and complementing what you've got at home."

Home-made videos

Patrick Parodi, chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum, says mobile video is currently a priority for phone companies and broadcasters - but they must understand how to get the most out of it.

"There's nothing about a mobile phone that resembles a television set," he says.

"I think the industry needs to be aware that the mechanics and user behaviour when using a mobile phone are much, much different than sitting in front of the TV."

Man watching mobile TV at bus stop
Mobile TV is constantly developing - but will it really take off?
That behaviour includes creating video as well as watching it, with services such as See Me TV on the Three network and O2's LookAtMe allowing users to upload their own clips.

"It's a bit like YouTube, except you get paid if people watch it," explains Tim Green, executive editor of Mobile Entertainment magazine.

"So some people are making a few hundred quid a month from this. But they tend to be girls taking their tops off."

Mobile video still has a long way to go before it really takes off, he says, because the offering is "not great" and parts are "still pretty embryonic".

As for my bus journeys, I may be tempted to tune in for a big news story, a huge event or a must-see show.

My trusty radio may not be quite as cutting-edge - but for now, it is still less hassle and less costly.


SEE ALSO
Digital Planet
26 Sep 06 |  Technology
Major TV broadcasters go mobile
07 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
ITV first with mobile simulcasts
05 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Brits show appetite for mobile TV
17 Jan 06 |  Technology

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