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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 December 2005, 03:42 GMT
New era heralded for mobile TV
By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News website

Cast members of Coronation Street hold up mobile phone
Coronation Street is one of the shows available to UK triallists

TV on mobiles is being touted as the next big thing, with supporters predicting it will offer a new genre of programmes.

While some have expressed doubts about whether people will want to watch TV on their mobiles, handset giant Nokia and leading independent TV producer Endemol are convinced it will be a winner.

Initial signs, both say, are that mobile TV will be a huge hit with consumers, a big money-spinner for content providers and mobile operators as well as a means of transforming TV as it currently exists.

The next 12 months looks set to be the year mobile TV takes off. While the buzz around it is similar to the hype for 3G services, there is much greater optimism that TV will live up to its promise.

Endemol is an old-hand at offering services to mobile firms as TV via 3G networks is already well established.

It has been pleased with results so far. It sold six million Big Brother minutes since the show went on offer to mobile users in the UK, Italy and Australia.

Mobile quiz

For its part, Nokia is busy testing next-generation mobile TV technology at locations around the world and initial feedback from the trials is that consumers are receptive to the idea of small-screen video.

This year is the first in a career of 27 years in television that I've been able to entertain people anywhere. A new era for those in the content business is starting
Peter Bazalgette, Endemol chairman
TV, unlike mobile web browsing, is an easy concept to sell to consumers, says Mark Selby, Nokia's vice president of multimedia sales.

His optimism is backed up by analysts. Technology consultancy Strategy Analytics predicts that mobile firms will have about 50 million users of mobile TV by 2009, generating an estimated 3.5bn in revenue.

Content that feeds off existing shows or offer extra behind-the-scene video is likely to be widely available initially but eventually there will be bespoke made-for-mobile shows.

"I can imagine an interactive quiz show just for mobile phones," said Peter Cowley, Endemol's head of interactive.

The company is concentrating its mobile effort on quizzes, comedy and reality shows.

Sport is also going to be a huge area for mobile technology and operators are keen for services to be rolled out in time for next year's football World Cup in Germany.

Alongside these more traditional areas, there will also be a whole new genre of made-for-mobile content, and glimpses of what will be possible are already in evidence.

Time and money

Operator 3 has already begun experimenting with user-generated content, offering subscribers of its 3G TV service the chance to upload their own shows and profit from them, albeit in a very small way with each download of a show earning the maker just one pence.

In Italy the firm is also offering full soap operas via mobile.

Endemol's UK chairman Peter Bazalgette sees exciting times ahead.

"This year is the first in a career of 27 years in television that I've been able to entertain people anywhere. A new era for those in the content business is starting," he said.

Orange TV
Orange launched its mobile TV service in May
He identified two issues that would be crucial to solve if the brave new world of mobile TV is to get off to a good start - time and money.

"The duration of 3G usage is a maximum of three minutes and we have to increase that. Also people downloading video need to know what they are paying for and that it is offered at a fair price," he said.

TV "snacking" seems to be most popular at the moment.

Orange, which launched its 3G mobile TV service in May, found that 36% watching its service during lunch and other breaks.

Some 18% watched TV while travelling to and from work, 12% while queuing or waiting for friends and 10% watched it at home.

The idea of paying for content has been questioned by some but indications from trials which Nokia has been involved in suggest that people will be prepared to put their hands in their wallets.

Following a trial in Helsinki, 41% said they would be willing to purchase mobile TV services. Half thought that a monthly payment of around 7 was a reasonable pricing model.

Questions about money are not limited to consumers though and rows over media rights have dominated discussions about how to roll out mobile TV services.

Cut-price viewing

Broadcasters such as Channel 4 have argued that they should have the right to show programmes for free, regardless of whether it is available via traditional TV sets, the internet or mobile.

The BBC plans to make TV programmes available free on the internet for up to seven days after they are broadcast

Nokia's DVB-H-enabled handset, N92
Nokia plans to launch a DVB-H-enabled handset
But independent producers such as Endemol are looking for ways to make money out of new services.

One solution said Mr Bazalgette could lie in advertising.

"You could provide content at a cut price for those who agree to take ads as well," he suggested.

The other issue dominating the future of mobile TV is which technology will dominate.

DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld) technology looks like being the favourite, set to overshadow current TV services rolling out on 3G networks.

Nokia, in common with other handset manufacturers, has been involved in trials of the technology around the world this year.

In the UK, Nokia in partnership with network provider O2 and broadcast firm Arqiva, has been monitoring 400 triallists in the Oxford area since October, both in terms of consumer behaviour and how the technology performs.

Triallists have the choice of 16 channels, including BBC channels, ITV, Channel 4 and Five which they can watch on the Nokia 7710 widescreen multimedia smartphone.

Nokia is due to release its first DVB-H enabled handset, the N92, in mid-2006 and this has been designed to look and feel like a portable TV.

"It was the first design where we said 'let's not start with a phone'", said Richard Sharp, Nokia's vice president of multimedia.

Official results from the Oxford trial are not due until the New Year but a few issues have been raised already.

The first is over how long it takes to switch channels - around four to five seconds - and the other is about updates to the TV service guide.

DVB-H, which has been adopted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as the standard for mobile TV services in Europe, works by beaming a signal to a digital TV receiver, attached to phones.

Unlike TV streaming via 3G, DVB-H does not eat up bandwidth and is a whole lot cheaper to roll out nationwide, about a tenth of what was spent on the GSM network, according to Mr Sharp.

"3G has capacity limitations and if two or three people in one place are receiving a TV picture, you can't make a phone call," explained Mr Sharp.

"The key thing with DVB-H is that it isn't a two-way thing. It is broadcast one way so as many people in one space as want it can receive it," he said.

"It is not a case of moving from 3G to DVB-H. The two are complementary and will co-exist because 3G is an important two-way technology," said Mr Sharp.

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