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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Mobile TV predicted to be a hit
Person watching TV on mobile phone
There are many competing services available on mobiles

TV could overtake gaming and music as the consumer's favoured application for mobile phones, according to research.

Services in Japan, South Korea and Italy are attracting millions, confounding critics who said people would not watch TV on a small device.

But consumers remain confused by what is on offer, as competing service offer different content and quality.

For the UK, a shortage of spectrum needed for mobile TV means adoption of services might have to wait until 2012.


Research firm Screen Digest forecasts that mobile TV will put gaming and music in the shade. It predicted that there will be 140 million global subscribers generating revenue of 3.1bn by 2011.

"There has been a lot of cynicism about mobile TV and the big unanswered question has been whether people would watch it. For us that has been answered," said Dave MacQueen, senior mobile analyst with Screen Digest.

A slow-down in mobile gaming and the fact that music via mobiles is unlikely to be a money-spinner for operators as people continue to 'side-load' music from their PCs, makes TV the best option for operators to make money, thinks Mr MacQueen.

As data services fail to make huge revenues and with regulatory and competitive pressures meaning the money people spend on voice and messaging is falling, operators need to make mobile TV a success, he said.

In Japan and South Korea there are now 5.8m people watching TV on their mobile phones, and even more watching TV on other hand-held devices and via in-car systems.

In Italy there are 500,000 subscribers to newly-launched mobile TV services such as that run by Vodafone in conjunction with Sky Italia.

The Vodafone service offers consumers the choice of 17 channels and can be paid for either monthly or is offered free for people that sign up to contracts.

For David McQueen, principal analyst with research firm Informa, mobile TV offers operators the chance to draw people away from increasingly popular pay-as-you-go services to the more profitable contract services.

Recording TV

The spectrum allocation issue is unique to the UK and it means the UK is behind in terms of mobile TV
David McQueen, Informa

There are a variety of ways to deliver TV to mobile phones and individual countries are adopting different technologies.

For example Vodafone's service in the UK is delivered via 3G which has a maximum capacity of around 15 users per 2km radius.

This means it would not be able to support mass market uptake, although it is ideally suited for offering 'catch-up' TV services such as that offered by 3.

By contrast, so-called broadcast TV has infinite capacity but cannot offer catch-up services, although there are now handsets coming on the market which are capable of recording TV.

Dave MacQueen believes that consumers are going to be most interested in watching simulcast TV, where the programming on mobile devices mirrors that of conventional TV.

This brings its own problems because peak viewing on conventional TV does not coincide with how people consume TV via their mobiles - mainly in short bursts early in the morning and on the way home from work.

It all makes for a confusing picture for consumers, say market watchers, and it gets even more complicated in the UK where true broadcast TV to mobiles will have to wait until spectrum is freed up in 2012.

"The spectrum allocation issue is unique to the UK and it means the UK is behind in terms of mobile TV," said Mr McQueen.

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