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Viewers crave mobile TV

As broadcasters look for new opportunities, could delivering mobile television become the next “pot-o-gold?” New research confirms that consumers are increasingly using smartphones, laptops and other portable devices to augment their entertainment consumption. And, when it comes to entertainment, broadcasters know how to deliver high-quality content well.

In late March, QuickPlay Media released the results of its third annual survey on consumers’ use of mobile TV and video. The study shows high interest from users in new TV and video entertainment delivery models, particularly multiscreen video services. In the survey, 53 percent of respondents voiced an interest in services that allow them to seamlessly switch between multiple devices, such as PCs and smartphones, when watching programs.

The whole entertainment experience, until now, has been location-dependent. Once content viewing begins, a person must stay fixed on a location until consumption is finished. I suppose the one exception might be a DVD, which could be moved to a different player and location. But in general, we can’t yet start a movie at home and then pick it when riding the train or bus to work. Nor can we watch the local morning news show while getting ready for work and then continue that experience while on the train or bus. Consumers want this capability.

Current mobile services

Let’s examine current mobile entertainment delivery platforms. First, there’s the streaming model. Video is sent over a regular cellular network to a data-enabled phone. This is called unicast or in-band model. Most 3G carriers offer some kind of streaming video service. This is little more than Internet on a mobile phone. As long as you have at least a 3G connection, you can get some quality of streamed video.

What makes the unicast model interesting going forward is 4G capability. That technology supports a nominal data rate of 100Mb/s while the phone is moving and 1Gb/s while the phone is stationary.

Then we have the broadcast model, of which there are two versions. First, FLO TV and then the ATSC model. FLO TV broadcasts in the 700MHz band, and the ATSC model relies on OTA broadcast transmissions.

FLO TV currently provides 18 channels of content and is available in more than 50 cities. The service includes four channels of news — CNBC, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN mobile. There is no weather channel and no local content.

It’s worth noting that the FLO TV Web site says, “Programming offered on your phone, in your car, and on your FLO TV Personal Television may vary.” So, you might not even have access to 18 channels of content, and that’s my point regarding consumption. I believe that as viewing options increase because of the addition of broadcast content, consumption also will increase.

ABI Research predicts that video streaming will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 62 percent. In part, that’s because of the rollout of 4G. With OTA broadcasts, that growth rate could be even higher.

Mobile TV viewership

Accurately measuring mobile TV consumption today is difficult because of limited market penetration. Currently only 17 percent of users have smartphones. However, those phones account for more than half of mobile Web usage.

The QuickPlay study shows that 67 percent of current mobile TV viewers began watching mobile TV in the last 12 months. Twenty-five percent began in just the last six months. Even so, 64 percent of mobile phone users claim to not have even tried their carrier’s mobile TV service.

Of those who do have mobile TV service, 20 percent say they access mobile video almost daily. That’s up from only 8 percent as measured in last year’s survey. This confirms that mobile TV awareness and usage are increasing.

Channel choices

I do question one part of the QuickPlay Media survey, that of mobile TV content. The survey asked viewers “Are your favorite network and cable TV programs currently available on your mobile TV service?” The survey says that 50 percent claimed satisfaction with content choice. As a broadcaster, I hope that number is wrong because there is virtually no local content currently available to mobile devices.

Yet the survey also says that 27 percent indicated they had “experienced difficulties finding content of interest.” These numbers seem at odds with each other. Either users are satisfied with choice, or they are not.

I believe viewers are actually hungry for OTA content, they just don’t realize it could be made available. Once viewers can access a wealth of programs, including local news, weather, sports and other content, just watch satisfaction and adoption of mobile TV skyrocket.

More information on the survey and results is available from QuickPlay Media.