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Mobile TV or Mobile Video?

[NOTE: This blog entry was originally created in 2006. As with my previous post on 3G and video, the market has moved slow.  Arguments here are still valid.]

I feel there are three relevant ways of providing a “TV” channel to the mobile user (regardless of whether it is IP based or DVB-H or whatever the delivery mechanism is):

1) Take an existing stream of content, and make it available to the mobile user.  I.e. broadcasting BBC News, a soccer game, Cartoon Network etc – as a continuos stream

2) Packaging made-for-mobile video content in programming loops and present it as a stream.  I.e. you could create a youth channel for instance by taking clips from Extreme sports, animations, etc, and simply create 10-20 minute segments that are played in a loop during the day, perhaps varying the content in different loops to cater to different wants and needs during the day, and allow users to jump on at any time.

3) Set up portals with video clips, categorized in similar ways that are done with games, where content is viewed on demand and can be downloaded, streamed or forwarded, and also where users can allow for interaction.

When it comes to category 1), I think this will be owned by the brands. Some people will be happy to tune in (or out depending on your point of reference) for 5 minutes just to pass the time, or to keep up on that all important champions league game.

Category 2) is more interesting, as I believe it does open up for new providers of content. Basically anything can be packaged, and the key is really to be able to provide targeted content. I.e. do not try to cater to all user segments – as you are likely to loose to channels in category 1). But for innovative providers who dear to be different than existing TV brands (who are increasingly losing viewers: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4758932.stm), this could present a great opportunity.  The danger of playing in this category, is the temptation of paying up big bucks to get a few brands on the channel, since you feel you are competing against the category 1) channels (which you will be).  Also, when “mobile TV” becomes big enough, companies like MTV and others may come in with their own made for mobile programming and own this category.

The problem with both category 1) and 2) in my opinion, is that it is based upon existing viewing patterns (i.e. the user sitting in front of a dumb terminal consuming content) and does not take advantage of the inherent capabilities of the phone: i.e. allowing for interaction/participation and viral mechanisms.

The best solution is to combine the streaming channels with interactivity in order to really take advantage of allowing users to do your marketing. If they see a really cool clip, they may be likely to forward it to friends as a gift or recommendation – while you will not stop a stream to call a friend to tell him you are watching this cool stream of content.  Also, you can allow for rating of content by the users, and you can easily create user generated content sites etc.  Naturally, if you have intelligent streaming solutions, you can introduce bookmarking of clips so you can download and send to a friend later on etc., i.e. a bit more elegant than having a portal of downloadable clips based on your streaming content.

The third category also allows for genuine creative talent to get exposure. While it may be very difficult to fit into a programming wheel of a continuos stream, it will be a lot easier to get exposure as the “clip of the day” or “most downloaded” etc.  However, if the content is not good, it is sure to disappear as fast as it appeared (assuming the channel is managed correctly), while content on a stream may hang around for a while and collect subscription revenue even though it may be really bad.

Also, I feel that once you apply interactivity, you get the true value of the mobile phone.  Good samples are shows like Forget the Rules (www.forgettherules.com) which allowed the mobile user to decide on the storyline.  We also have a concept we are working on called Dream Date, which we hope to announce a major launch in 2 months time. This is a concept where the story is scripted, but the user has to make choices along the way to get the whole story, i.e. it allows for interactivity.

The challenge for all categories will be real estate – fitting into the operator deck (or the portal).  As most users will not browse or click too many times, your faith as a content provider may very well depend on whether you fit into a category desired by the operator.  Unfortunately, these same operators have little or no experience in managing rich media channels.  When I hear comments like “we already have animation, so we are not interested in more” I start wondering whether this space will ever take off.  Perhaps it never will, until the 3G decks truly open up to allow innovators to reach consumers directly – and those consumers again will do most of the marketing for them.

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