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Last year I wrote about my experience as a beta tester for Livestation, a streaming client that delivers a variety of live, on-demand news channels to your laptop or desktop. (Check out my June 2008 column). This free service has taken off with tremendous popularity. Originally delivering a selection of world news channels, the client app, which is now available in both PC and Mac versions, has included the capability for users to add their own favorite channels to the streaming player.

For the past two months, I have been part of an alpha test group for a new Livestation product — a streaming client that can reside on either an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch. Chosen for purposes of the alpha test, the variety of channel offerings include Al Jazeera, BBC World News, Bloomberg Television, Euronews, France 24 English and Russia Today. For a news junkie, this level of portability in live TV news services, i.e. news on-demand anytime you want it, anywhere you are, can be quite addictive. The sheer convenience can result in tuning in at the oddest of times and in the strangest of places.

Mobile news on its way

At the recent CES in January, the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) announced plans by a contingent of U.S. broadcasters for the rollout of a mobile DTV service later this year. Presumably, this would be sometime after the adoption of ATSC's Mobile DTV M/H standard, which is expected to occur sometime around midyear. That, along with currently available wireless TV services and Livestation's planned entry into this market, sets up an interesting battle for mobile viewers' eyeballs.

The Livestation folks, with their focus on news, seem to have gotten it right. News channels are ideal content for portable viewing. By its nature, portable viewing does not readily lend itself to scheduled programming nor does it seem appropriate for long-form or episodic content, unless you find it tolerable to watch such program content intermittently, as time permits, and on a small screen.

But the other clear advantage that Livestation has is Apple's sheer popularity. In its most recent SEC filing, for the quarter ending in December 2008, the company reportedly sold 4.4 million iPhones and more than 23 million iPods. The numbers, and remember these sales figures represent just three months (albeit the holiday buying season), were not broken down by country or model. But an AT&T Wireless report for the same period indicating it had activated 1.9 million iPhones gives us some calibration of the U.S. market share. Where the ATSC-M/H approach requires dedicated reception hardware or a wireless device with embedded reception capability, the Livestation approach only requires a client app that can be readily installed on any of the millions of iPhone and iPod Touch devices already in service.

Livestation CEO Matteo Berlucchi indicated that plans are being finalized and negotiations are underway with both Apple and broadcasters to offer single-channel client apps via Apple's iTunes Store. So, rather than offer a multichannel broadcast service, the viewer will have the option of a personalized service by downloading only the specific broadcast channel apps of interest, thus using his iPhone or iPod as the content aggregator. Livestation, in addition to having developed the client app, will offer the broadcaster an end-to-end solution for the streaming of content to user devices.

For the ATSC-M/H camp, look out: You've got a potential new competitor. For the broadcaster, it's another way to get your content out there. And for the viewer, life is good.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

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