South Koreans like live TV on mobile

Live programs, not short video clips, may be the way to go for mobile TV, according to the experience of a South Korean operator.

Short video clips may not be what mobile TV subscribers are looking for, if the experience of a South Korean mobile broadcast service company is anything to go by.

Speaking at the Mobile TV Forum on the sidelines of CommunicAsia Wednesday, Suh Young-kil, president and CEO of TU Media, said that while most pundits expected short video clips to take off on the small screen, live sports is now the "killer application", at least among TU Media's customers.

"We offered short programs such as music and video clips, as well as short dramas in the beginning," he said. "But we soon realized that the quality of content matters more to customers than the length of it."

Although South Korean TV content such as soap operas are popular on both traditional and mobile media platforms, mobile TV content will form its own unique characteristics, Suh said.

Started in 2003, TU Media, a subsidiary of SK Telecom, is South Korea's first mobile broadcast company. It started commercial mobile TV broadcasting in late 2005, and has over 580,000 subscribers. With a monthly fee of 13,000 won (US$13), subscribers can access 12 video and 36 audio channels.

TU Media made another surprising discovery. The average consumption for its mobile TV turned out to be higher than expected, at about 64 minutes per day for both video and audio content, Suh said.

Consumption patterns among mobile TV subscribers differ from those exhibited by traditional couch potatoes, Suh said. "Conventional TV is mostly watched in the mornings and evenings, while mobile TV is watched throughout the day," he said, adding that this includes commuting time, lunchtime or even indoors during office hours.

"We expected people to use mobile TV mostly outdoors, but homes, offices and the subway are as common as outdoor usage," he added.

Customer expectations have also increased. "Their QoS (quality-of-service) requirements are now the same as what they expect from mobile phone services--nationwide coverage and indoor reception," Suh said.

Interestingly, TU Media had thought younger users under the age of 30 would have been most receptive to mobile TV services. "But we found that 30 percent of our subscribers are above 40," he said. "They enjoy 24-hour news and some sporting events."

Despite the opportunities, Suh admitted, mobile TV also faces some potential challenges. For example, the limited number of mobile TV capable handsets, for instance, could dampen adoption. Easy-to-use and affordable handsets are important drivers of mobile TV services, Suh said, adding that TU Media is working with handset makers to address this issue.

According to analyst company Datamonitor, the Asia-Pacific region will have the most number of mobile TV screens in the world, with 76.3 million subscribers by 2012.