Optimize mobile TV to justify fee

Subscription-based mobile TV needs to be optimized for small screens in order to offer better value proposition over free-to-air broadcasting, says analyst.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Subscription-based mobile TV needs to be optimized for smaller screens in order to justify the fees charged to consumers, according to an analyst.

Frank Dickson, research vice president for mobile Internet at In-Stat, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, the value proposition of subscription TV offerings appears to be "less compelling than free, best-effort TV". And because consumers are levied charges for subscription TV services as well as for 3G data usage, the experience has to be improved in order to justify the fee, he pointed out in an e-mail.

There are several ways to optimize content, he said, such as highlighting the ball in a sports telecast, which can make it easier to view on a small screen. Another technique is to optimize the video resolution for small screens, he said.

The market at that time was not ready for a full-scale broadcast TV mobile service as a commercial offering.
Moses Lye, MediaCorp, on company's 2008 mobile TV pilot trial

But operators appear to face a chicken-and-egg situation as the mobile TV market is not big enough to justify investment in optimizing content for handhelds, said Dickson.

"The major growth in mobile TV is in the free-to-air space," he noted. "The segment currently seems satisfied with quality of the content being received."

Moses Lye, vice president for Interactive Media of MediaCorp's entertainment and mobile business, said in an e-mail the Singapore broadcaster recognized the potential market for mobile TV, as the country has a high mobile phone penetration.

"However, viewership of TV content on mobile [phones] is still in its early stages," she added. MediaCorp's mobile TV trial of 300 consumers, conducted mid last year, resulted in "the conclusion that the market at that time was not ready for a full-scale broadcast TV mobile service as a commercial offering", said Lye.

During the trial, MediaCorp employed DVB-H technology as the mobile TV standard. The broadcaster has since rolled out to subscribers a live video streaming service on mobiles via IPTV (Internet protocol television), she said.

Free-to-air for emerging markets
Telegent, which makes TV receiver chips for mobile devices, hopes to capitalize on the free-to-air market, by riding on the existing mature free-to-air broadcast TV industry.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, its CEO Sam Sheng said free-to-air TV encompasses a rich existing ecosystem that has been built up over the decades, which includes content providers and broadcasters. It also has a loyal viewer base that follows broadcast schedules and dedicates time to watch some shows, he said.

This has allowed the five-year-old company to tap an existing addressable market, primarily in the region's emerging markets such as China and Thailand, where there is the additional trend of "rapid" growing consumer interest in mobile phones, said Sheng. According to him, the combination of growing mobile adoption and free-to-air TV, which requires no subscription fees, has made such markets the bulk of Telegent's business.

Addressing the market for analog TV, which is the dominant standard in these regions, makes up "more than 90 percent" of Telegent's business and is the company's "fastest-growing segment", Sheng noted.

"The operative word here is 'free'. [Mobile TV] wouldn't work if you were charging people US$10 a month," he pointed out.

Even in five years, the "vast bulk" of Telegent's business is expected to be in analog chips, because of the growth of emerging markets, added Sheng. "It's a numbers game. The population of the developed world is just not that big," he said.

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