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Europe ready to pay for mobile TV

Europe is now ready to pay for mobile TV services, but only if the quality improves, with similar findings for the Asia Pacific region from a survey of 1500 consumers by media delivery vendor Viadiator.

In the UK, 73 percent of people have already or would be willing to pay for mobile content, while for Malaysia the figure is 74 percent and 64 percent for India. Such figures seem surprising given that mobile TV has largely failed to take off in Europe so far, with almost all deployments and trials of the the DVB-H standard for delivering to handheld devices having been abandoned.

But, the survey reflects optimism (sparked by the tablet boom and improved video capabilities of smartphones) that the next wave of mobile TV will actually deliver the required quality. There are still concerns over quality, but with the difference from earlier that problems are now more likely to be caused by the network than the device itself. Most complaints were either over poor video quality, such as pixilation and picture breaks caused by buffering, or slow load times. In Malaysia, picture was the biggest issue cited by 61 percent of respondents, while in the UK it was interruptions to playback, experienced by 41 percent of subscribers.

The willingness of respondents to pay for mobile TV services was conditional on these issues being fixed. But, providing progress is seen to be made, there will be growing demand for mobile TV, with video consumption on tablets and smartphones in Europe likely to double during the first half of 2012.

The first mobile TV services arrived in Europe in 2005 from Sky in the UK and one or two others, often provided only to existing subscribers of pay TV services. But, take up was slow, and trhe recent upsurge in viewing has mostly been via Wi-Fi, which, given the much greater available bandwidth quality, is generally much better at delivering video to a relatively small screen. Although, this does depend on factors such as the nature of the building where it is deployed. That, in turn, has created demand for the ability to access the same content on the move via cellular services, and this is where most of the problems arise. In the UK, Orange offers mobile TV subscription packages with its smartphones, with unlimited access to all channels for £9 ($15) per month. But, takeup has been modest so far, with some complaints over quality, leading Orange to indicate that performance issues are likely in the areas where it does not yet offer 3G coverage.

Some analysts would go further and argue that high quality HD delivery to tablets and laptops on the move will not be achieved consistently until 4G is deployed, using Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Sky has tacitly admitted as much with regard to its Sky Go app delivering mobile TV to existing satellite subscribers, suggesting that customers will need WiFi or to be in an area with a stronger 3G signal, to be sure of good quality. This highlights how, with mobile TV, even to an extent over WiFi, varying signal strength will continue to be a factor over the next few years.

There is though a sense that just as people accept a lower voice quality when using mobile phones compared with a landline, so there will be at least some tolerance for artifacts when watching TV on portable devices. But, as the Vidiator survey indicates, this tolerance is limited, and operators need to improve quality to take advantage of the growing appetite for mobile TV among consumers.

While the focus of that survey was on subscription payment, there is also growing interest among operators in mobile advertising. This has yet to make much impact in Europe, but in Hong Kong, Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), the region’s second biggest terrestrial Free To Air commercial broadcaster, in Nov. 2011 deployed an advertising-supported mobile TV service called myTV for the iPad, iPhone and Android devices. TVB therefore looked for a platform with fully integrated advertising support, and selected the QuickPlay Media OpenVideo Platform, which was chosen because of its ability to handle the TV and advertising content together.

It remains to be seen whether and how soon advertising will pay the bills for myTV, but it shows operators are now prepared to bet on it.