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Mobile TV viewing patterns not what the pundits predicted

One of the most surprising statistics that In-Stat VP Frank Dickson uncovered in his mobile TV research was that people like to watch the same things on mobile TV that they watch at home. "People said mobile TV had to be in 10, 15-minute increments. We're not seeing that," says Dickson, author of In-Stat's 2009 report “Analog Mobile TV: The World's Most Widely Available Option for Mobile TV.” "

Dickson's not the only one noticing this. "People argued that no one would watch long-form content on [the handset's] small screen," says Shelly Palmer, TV business critic and theme composer. "Conventional wisdom is, the smaller the screen, the shorter the sweet spot. But what you see is contrary to that. You see people with their heads bent [watching mobile TV] for 45 minutes, an hour."

Since launching its PrimeTime2Go service, Mobile video solutions company QuickPlay Media has a front-row seat to mobile TV viewing habits and has made some surprising observations.

"Viewing happens," reports QuickPlay sales and marketing VP Mark Hyland. What's interesting is the places where they view it. We expect people would watch on planes and during their commute, but people are also watching at work and at home — even in the living room where there's another screen. Even in bed, he says.

Mobile TV is personal TV, he continues, unlike the cable subscription. "You can have customized packages in the same household. People are watching all kinds of content. People are using it for catch-up TV."

I got independent verification of these observations recently from 19 year-old Alex Yi a few weeks ago. Alex was watching Verizon's V CAST MTV channel on his LG Voyager smartphone, while his buddies were watching a police drama on the living room TV. The Voyager is also Alex's primary Internet connection.

Alex doesn't have an iPhone; it's too expensive, he says, and it doesn’t come with a warranty (Alex is a skateboarder). But seeing video on friends' iPhones convinced him to buy a new phone with a big screen and straightforward, two-key navigation for TV. "I didn't watch TV before I had a phone that made it easy," he says, even though he already had an "unlimited everything" service plan. With the Voyager, "it's easy."

Convenience is mobile TV's primary benefit, Alex says, and it lets him integrate viewing into his day on his schedule, instead of a broadcaster's. What does he watch? First thing in the morning Alex likes to check the news. Later in the day, when he's on a work break – again validating QuickPlay's statistics – he's most likely to watch the Daily Show.