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South Korea takes to mobile TV like crazy, says TNS Global

In 2005, South Korea became the first country in the world to have mobile TV when it started satellite DMB (S-DMB) and terrestrial DMB (T-DMB) service. Today, South Korea, along with Japan, is at the forefront of this developing sector; nearly half of all Koreans enjoy mobile TV.

Developed Asian markets such as Japan and Korea have ballooned compared to Europe and North America in mass uptake of mobile multimedia, according to the latest Global Telecoms Insights study from TNS Global, due to infrastructure investments, faster network speeds and attention to innovation and affordable flat-rate data plans.

The number of consumers using mobile TV in Japan and Korea has more than doubled in the last year, rising from 14 percent to 32 percent. Similarly, Hong Kong consumers increased from 18 percent to 32 percent. By way of contrast, European mobile TV growth in Europe was sluggish last year, inching from 6 percent to just 8 percent, with the U.S. uptake at 11 percent even though the number of mobile TV users has doubled.

The powerful impact of mobile TV’s uptake on Asian consumers makes it the critical driver in handset choice. A full third of Korean consumers name mobile TV as the number one determining factor in what device they buy, well ahead of MP3 capabilities and a camera. In the United States and the UK, only 2 percent and 5 percent of users respectively care about mobile TV when purchasing handsets.

“A number of reasons underpin the significantly higher adoption of advanced mobile technologies in Asia," explained Stephen Yap, group director at TNS Technology.

"Technology tends to be more aspirational for Asian consumers, who tend to be earlier adopters as a result. Early and significant investment in mobile infrastructure by industry players, and in some cases governments, has led to network capabilities that today surpass those of Europe and North America. Moreover, relatively affordable flat-rate data plans are better established in Asia, while in Europe and the U.S., flat-rate plans are still priced relatively highly and incremental charging for data consumption is still commonplace.”

Charging by megabytes used may be inhibiting revenue opportunities for operators and service providers — in the United States, only 8 percent of consumers pay for music downloads on their mobile devices, compared with Korea’s 24 percent and Japan’s 21 percent. Clearly, service providers who make data more affordable open the door to incremental revenue.

South Korea was one of the first countries in the world to launch DMB, and it has swiftly become ubiquitous there. TU Media, South Korean operator of satellite-based DMB, said the number of its subscribers just topped 2 million four years after launching its service. More than 20 million T-DMB devices including mobile phones sold there through May 2009, according to industry sources, and numbers suggest that about 45 percent of South Korea's 49 million people enjoy mobile TV service.

South Korea pursues DMB as an engine for future telecommunications industry growth. Its public transportation systems — buses, trains and subways — equip their vehicles with monitors broadcasting programs nonstop. The country currently boasts five DMB operators, including four TV broadcasters providing land-based service free of charge, and one satellite digital broadcaster, SK Telecom’s TU Media, which charges less than $4 a month for access to 21 video channels and 16 radio stations.

All three of Korea’s mobile carriers — LG Telecom, KT and SK Telecom — offer handsets that give users access to the free-to-air terrestrial DMB platform as well as their own pay-TV services.

The TU Media mobile pay-TV platform has about 2 million subscribers, an increase of 700,000 over last year, in its progress toward a 2.5 million break-even target. The company attributes the increase to a new service package that offered some satellite-delivered channels free. TU Media has already lost approximately $240 million on the venture, and last year, mobile TV advertising revenue stood at just $7 million.