In a move that had been anticipated for months, Qualcomm is ceasing operations of its multichannel mobile video service, FLO TV, due to lackluster interest from consumers and is shifting its focus to leasing its network wholesale to other telcos and data service providers. This comes after years of expert opinion and customer surveys predicting that mobile video services would be highly popular. Most agree that the division that runs FLO TV, MediaFLO, was hindered by economic conditions as well as the availability of TV shows and other video via the Internet, accessed through the new generation of smart phones, for free (or at least the price of a data service plan).
Bill Stone, president of MediaFlo and FLO TV, said the service would shut down by the end of the year. The company is reportedly in discussions with AT&T and Verizon to keep FLO TV programming available to customers with compatible phones who now subscribe to the service via AT&T and Verizon.
Requiring special transmission technology (exciters and other products sold by Harris, Rohde & Schwarz, Thomson and others) to transmit the signal to proprietary MediaFLO devices, the FLO broadcast technology uses the 700MHz spectrum to deliver programming to phones and devices equipped with transceivers.
There’s no denying the technology’s efficiency or flexibility to deliver different types of content within a single FLO stream. According to MediaFLO documentation, a FLO-based programming service that offers 30fps video with stereo audio can include 14 real-time streaming video channels of wide-area content (e.g., national content) and five real-time streaming video channels of local market-specific content.
“This can be delivered concurrently with 50 nationwide non-real-time channels (consisting of prerecorded content) and 15 local non-real-time channels, with each channel providing up to 20 minutes of content per day. Non-real-time content can be delivered in the background and made available for viewing in accordance with a provided program guide,” according to the company.
In June, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs acknowledged the consumer service's problems and suggested the company might be better off focusing on using its spectrum and network to distribute other content. At that time he said the spectrum itself is worth almost $2 billion, “based on the latest spectrum auction."
The FLO TV mobile video service was launched in 2007 with the support of Verizon Wireless and programming from NBC Universal, ESPN, News Corp., ABC Networks, Discovery and Viacom. In 2008, AT&T announced its support, and some additional international trials occurred that year as well. They began amid much fanfare as well as fear that it would take business away from traditional TV broadcasters.
That never happened to any real extent. Limited availability on mobile devices and an inability to achieve full national coverage were hurdles Qualcomm was never able to overcome. Consumers also were not as interested in paying for content on the go as some had predicted. The one type of content that had some traction with subscribers was live sports.
Qualcomm's FLO TV store, which sold a stand-alone unit that could be used indoors or mounted inside automobiles, is no longer open. The FLO TV service was only available on a select few mobile phones, and it required users to pay a monthly service fee. The direct-to-consumer units (manufactured by HTC) have been sold in Best Buy locations across the country.