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Rory Cellan-Jones

Mobile TV: Ready for take-off?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Nov 09, 10:06 GMT

Three years ago, I filed a series of reports from South Korea, intended to give a glimpse of our high-tech future - and it seemed clear that one phenomenon - mobile television - would be heading our way... presently.

RCJ in KoreaIn Seoul, we found television stations pouring money into special services for mobiles, and Koreans could be seen enjoying a football match or catching up with a soap on their phones.

But so far in the UK - and across Europe, as far as I can see - mobile television is the personal jet-pack of consumer technology: something that looks fun but has stubbornly refused to take off.

There have been numerous experiments, rows over different broadcast standards, and quite a few failed launches - remember that Virgin Mobile TV service, promoted by Pamela Anderson, which closed after attracting fewer than 10,000 subscribers?

It seems that a combination of technological problems and consumer indifference has made both operators and broadcasters pause for thought. The trouble is that the various broadcast systems that have been tried out have so far looked too expensive, while television over the 3g network has proved just a bit flaky.

Now, though, there's a new wave of interest, sparked by the proliferation of smartphones with bigger screens, notably the iPhone.

While few people are watching live television, more and more seem to be putting programmes on their phones to watch on the move, and it seems the BBC's iPlayer service for mobiles has also proved quite popular.

Some dedicated gadget fans are also using Slingbox's technology to deliver their home television service to their mobile phones. But this week, Sky launched a mobile TV service aimed specifically at iPhone users, and it set me wondering whether at last someone was going to crack the live TV conundrum.

Sky Mobile on iPhoneSky says it already has around 250,000 subscribers to two mobile sports TV services on a number of handsets - but it has big hopes for the iPhone and its early-adopter user base (due in part to the apps potential and, again, that bigger screen). Around two million people have downloaded a series of free Sky applications, but now the big test will be how many will sign up for the £6-per-month service giving access to all of Sky's live sports output.

But here's the catch - it's only available on wi-fi, so while it may be handy as a cheaper substitute at home for those unwilling to pay full whack for Sky Sports, it's unlikely to allow many people to catch Premiership action on the move.

It's apparently O2 which has decreed that this - like other TV streaming services - cannot be accessed on its 3g network. The operator says that if some people are watching television on their mobiles, others could see their service impaired. And this brings us back to the real problem: an industry struggling to deliver a compelling experience to mobile consumers with technology which isn't yet up to the job.

One live service delivered over 3g is, however, causing a lot of excitement. It's called TVCatchup, and it offers the main channels live to a computer or an iPhone.

tvcatchup

I've tried it out over the last few days: catching up with a bit of Strictly Come Dancing as we walked to a firework display; watching the Six O'Clock News on the train home. It's amazing when it works, though prone to freezing when network coverage dips.

There is of course one catch to TVCatchup. The broadcasters appear dubious about its legal status, though I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between a phone streaming a live feed of BBC1 and one of those tiny portable televisions picking up the broadcast signal. In both cases, though, you do need a television licence to watch live TV (see this post at the BBC Internet Blog). (Note to TV Licensing: how about a licence app for phones? Free to those who've already got a licence?)

The appetite for live television on the move can only grow. The question now is who will be able to come up with something that delivers on three fronts - the right technology, a price consumers will pay, and a business model that will survive for more than a few months.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Re Sky: I already pay more than £55 a month to Sky, I really don't see why I should pay another £6 for the iPhone app. This should be free to their premium customers, after all I get Sky Player for 'free'.

    Re TVCatchup: a great product. I use it quite a bit.

  • Comment number 2.

    Are we so addicted to TV that we can't even travel without it? This just seems unnecessary to me. I need my phone to make calls and send texts. I rarely use its camera, and might play the odd game if I'm particularly bored on a train. Listening to music is fair enough, but TV (and even the internet really) on a phone is too far. I find it a little bit sad that instead of reading a newspaper or a book, people NEED to watch TV on the move. Nobody needs to watch TV so badly that they can't even wait until they get home. Taking a break from technology is healthy.

  • Comment number 3.

    My problem with mobile TV is that I don't think handsets are up to scratch yet, especially in terms of battery life; I barely get a day's usage out of my iPhone 3G before I have to charge it up and I can't see myself wanting to chew into my valuable charge just to catch the news (which I can get anyway via RSS or the News website itself) or another show.

  • Comment number 4.

    In both cases, though, you do need a television licence to watch live TV

    You don't need an additional licence for a phone if you've got one at home since they're covered under the exemption for 'non-installed' devices that run from internal batteries.

  • Comment number 5.

    Just goes to show what big government can do.

    There they recognise the enormous benefit to society and business by massive government (i.e. using taxpayers money) spending on state of the art I.T. infrastructure.

    Here, they, the government, are hamstrung by the fact the we, the taxpayers, object to paying for anything up front, preferring to wait, possibly for ever, for someone else to pay for it, and complaining all the while about how bad it is not to have it.

    There they have enough bandwidth of varying sorts to cope with the load. Here we don't and we'd be the first to criticse 02 et al. if every time there was something good on TV our mobile phones stopped working.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm fascinated by the latest foray into mobile TV - while it has been attempted before, nothing has come close to the offerings that Sky and TVCatchup have available and so I can really now see it becoming mainstream.

    TVCatchup has already changed the way that I watch TV on a day-to-day basis, living in an area with minimal freeview reception, and now it is changing where I watch it too. From what I understand (merely as a user) TVCatchup seem to be confident in their own legal status - http://bit.ly/lh5aW - after the previous, legally shakier service was withdrawn. They also, when registering for the site, make a large point of the need for a TV Licence - I assume further cementing their legal position.

  • Comment number 7.

    I just can't see me ever wanting to watch things on a tiny screen. I know people who download films to their iPhone to watch on planes etc, but I just cannot see the attraction. The devil is in the detail, and you don't get much of it on a 3.5 inch screen. There's a perfectly good reason why my main TV is ten times that size: I like the display to be as big as possible. Even the example picture on your blog is bigger than an actual iPhone screen.

    However, even supposing I didn't care what size the display was, I still don't quite see where the appetite for live TV on a phone comes from. Watching something you've downloaded is fair enough, because you can pause it when you get to your destination; but what if you arrive at your destination 10 minutes before a programme ends? Do you hang around waiting for it to finish? Should we expect to see people walking into each other in the street because they've all got their eyes transfixed on their phone watching an episode of the X Factor?

  • Comment number 8.

    How did you get a screenshot of an iPhone with 100% battery surely it's not possible?

  • Comment number 9.

    Personally I'd hate watching TV on the go, I won't even watch youtube videos on my phone I just wait till I get home. On a side note, Rory that is a terrible picture of you up the top there, you look like the sleaziest gameshow host ever.

  • Comment number 10.

    there is a fundamental problem with all this streamed mobile video.

    Personally, I've only ever wanted to use it when as a passenger in a car, bus, train, etc. If you're travelling at anything more than 10mph then there are real issues while your phone switches signal from one mobile phone mast to another, its rarely seamless, thus causes breaks in playback.

    Secondly, 02 in particular has an awful 3G network so any lengthy (5 minutes+) video is impossible to watch.

    I've tried using YouTube in various cities (Edinburgh, Manchester, London, etc) and it was unreliable.

    As always its not the content or the end user to blame, its the data connection imbetween that is stalling this, ala Broadband a decade ago.

  • Comment number 11.

    "Mobile TV: Ready for take-off?"

    Short answer - no it never will.

    It is, and always wa,s a commercially daft reason to overpay for a 3g licence.

  • Comment number 12.

    I occasionally watch streams of things like ESA rocket launches on my HTC Touch Diamond, and I watch iPlayer too, so mobile TV is already a reality for me. And the iPhones are hardly a good example of a device with a large screen - it's only a 3.5 inch (diagonal) HVGA screen. Devices like the Toshiba TG01 and HTC HD2 pack much larger screens (4.1 and 4.3 inches respectively) with over double the number of pixels (WVGA) into similar-sized devices.

  • Comment number 13.

    Mobile TV?

    Technically this is never going to be possible for two main reasons: first the computing power needed to decode the highly compressed video stream means that you either get very very poor video or if you drop the phone in a puddle it explodes leaving a small crater - because of the power density of the battery needed to run the high powered computer.

    Quite apart from the fact that the UK's 3G networks are incapable of delivering a satisfactory user experience due to capacity and bandwidth limitations - even 4G can't do it either (and we don't have any operators offering the service in the UK yet - see Scandinavia)

    In short, the mobile phone companies were insane when they bid for the 3G licences. They were bereft of reason and engineering logic and now they still need to find new revenue raising opportunities and this is still one of the daftest. When are we going to get 4G phones in the UK?

  • Comment number 14.

    I'd add that more availablity of mobile TV would greatly improve my viewing life. I spend the vast majority of my life on the train and home really is only for sleeping - don't often have time to watch TV and get enough sleep.

    I currently spend a great deal of time using beebplayer (the iplayer app for android) on my HTC magic and it is quite frankly the best method for me to watch the shows that I want to see. I can even put up with the odd freeze and patchy signal now and again.

    I only wish that I was able to get a 4od equivalent and that my phone had a little bit better battery life (it normally runs out about 20mins before I get to my final destination)

    In short, for me, a more widely serviced mobile TV platform would be most welcome for me!

  • Comment number 15.

    Mobile TV: Ready for take-off?

    Take-off like a brick!

  • Comment number 16.

    Yawn. Another plaything for the wealthy with an IQ that is less than the value of their bank balance.

    Would someone mind telling me how low paid hard working people, i.e. a large majority of those employed in this country, are supposed to entertain themselves?

    We seem to be heading back to the Victorian age where entertainment is viewed as something purely for "those what can afford it".

    Mind you I guess we could all fiddle our expense accounts, oh wait, silly me, low paid workers don't have expense accounts...

  • Comment number 17.

    I had a pocket television a few years ago. After the novelty wore off I sold the thing on ebay. Video is meant to be viewed on a big screen! Yes it may kill time on the train or during a lunch hour, but I can't see it being as successful as an mp3 player. The tablet book readers are probably going to be more successful that mobile TV subscriptions.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ No. 16

    This is the BBC technology blog.

    I'm assuming you didn't send that comment via homing pigeon.

  • Comment number 19.

    "18. At 10:02am on 14 Nov 2009, Simon Davenport wrote:

    @ No. 16

    This is the BBC technology blog.

    I'm assuming you didn't send that comment via homing pigeon." ------------


    Oooh now there's an idea, it might actually be faster - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_over_avian_carrier

    My point, although some may find this hard to understand because their not on the bread line, was that the majority of hard working low paid individuals in this country are sick and tired of having to pay again and again and again and again and again and, ooh, again, for the same content but on a different platform.

    And speaking for myself I am sick and tired of seeing everything on the iPhone and at a price I as a low paid hard working person cannot afford.

    I barely manage to pay the bills I have now and yet we're getting the BBC, a non-advertising broadcaster, pushing the iPhone and TV streaming for a premium price in our faces.

    And with all these things the price doesn't come down and when they become the norm the hard working low paid worker is expected to pay the price or go without, let's take the switchover to digital, my parents are 1 retired on a state pension and 1 working in a supermarket on less than I earn (I only earn £12k after taxes and have to work 48hrs for the privilege), they are looking at a £100+ refit of the cabling from the loft to the living room and possibly an aerial upgrade which will cost even more just so they can watch TV when the switchoff of analogue happens, now that might not sound much to the well offs who've decided analogue isn't good enough anymore because they can't fit enough dross into the bandwidth but for my parents £100 is quite a lot of money.

    So I ask again what are the low paid hard working individuals in the UK supposed to do to entertain themselves when the well offs decide everything for us without any concern of how we will pay for it?

    Should we simply sit and stare out the window like good little sheep?

  • Comment number 20.

    @19

    I'm not sure what your argument is. You don't have to buy it. It's not a mandatory purchase. These items aren't being targetted at people who cannot afford them.

    You have no inherent right to own these items and it's up to the consumer to obtain the money to buy them. Unless there's some illegal price fixing going on, it's not the responsibility of the seller to lower prices.

    I have a question for you, who do you suggest should pay for the research and development of the products it if the price was lowered so that less well off people could afford it?

  • Comment number 21.

    "20. At 12:46pm on 14 Nov 2009, Pixelvision wrote:

    @19

    I'm not sure what your argument is. You don't have to buy it. It's not a mandatory purchase. These items aren't being targetted at people who cannot afford them.

    You have no inherent right to own these items and it's up to the consumer to obtain the money to buy them. Unless there's some illegal price fixing going on, it's not the responsibility of the seller to lower prices.

    I have a question for you, who do you suggest should pay for the research and development of the products it if the price was lowered so that less well off people could afford it?"


    ------------

    Well let me see if I can answer that question.

    You have 10 people buying something at £10, that's £100. You have 100 people buying something at £1, that's still £100. So how does lowering the price of something dent R&D budgets? If you lower the price of something it instantly becomes more attractive to people, does it not?

    Sure right now such items are not aimed at those who cannot afford it. But it's a very short sighted person who only looks at the now.

    Mobile phones, smartphones if you will, are fast becoming integral to daily life, if they haven't already become so, so what happens in the future when such things as video streaming are the norm? I can see many practical uses for it, not just for entertainment. Are we still expected to be paying the same prices? Because I can guarantee you that prices will not come down, look at Sky, it's just as expensive as when they started up, and now they are almost the dominant TV provider. It is only because people feel they "have" to watch x,y and z show that they subscribe to Sky and thus through peer pressure Sky have gotten the foothold they have. It's a well known marketing ploy that if you tell enough people they should have something then those people will want to have that something and others around them will follow suit. And before long that something becomes the norm and other less used, more traditional somethings get sidelined and we are expected to start adopting that new something because the older technology is no longer being supported. Of course another tactic, which Sky use to great effect, is to buy up all of the competitions "products", in the case of Sky it is TV programmes, making sure that the competition is left with very little to offer, but perhaps that is best left for another debate, perhaps Rory could write a blog on open markets for content?

    My argument is simply this - I am one of a majority of hard working individuals, who are low paid purely because employers in this country will not pay a fair wage, and thus I am unable to afford many of the luxuries I would like to have, and I see no reason why I should not be able to afford the same luxuries in the same way that, lets say a city banker for example, who's lost millions of £s through sheer incompetence, but still gets a nice fat bonus, can.

    And by making such technology advances "exclusive" to certain affluent groups by way of keeping prices inflated it widens the digital divide that exists in Britain, and with the way technology is taking us that is not a good thing if we want to compete with the likes of South Korea, Singapore, Japan, China etc.

    Oh and if you don't call the iPhone being remarkably similarly priced, no matter where you look for it, price fixing then I'd like to see your definition of price fixing because to me ever since O2 obtained the contract the iPhone has appeared to have 1 price with a very tightly locked down contract, and rather conveniently the competition laws were altered just before the iPhone arrived here in the UK, so whilst it may not be illegal it's definitely fixed.

    Lowering prices so people can afford items doesn't hurt one bit, we've seen that with the cheap set top boxes for Freeview, many people have jumped on the digital bandwagon when they possibly wouldn't have if the prices of a set top box were higher, it is just a shame that people have been cornered into making the jump to digital.

    How long before we are all cornered into ditching our non-smartphone mobile phones?

  • Comment number 22.


    You have 10 people buying something at £10, that's £100. You have 100 people buying something at £1, that's still £100. So how does lowering the price of something dent R&D budgets? If you lower the price of something it instantly becomes more attractive to people, does it not?


    Your description has the same gross income, but it is missing the production costs. A very basic descripton of the process is this:



    Say you had a price of £10 for an item which cost £8 to produce, then your profit is (10-8) multiplied by the number of purchases. which in your description is 10. Making the profit £20.

    Let's apply that to the other example, 100 sales at £1. You'd have (£1 - £8) multiplied by 100. Profits totally -£700. A massive loss.

    As soon as the price drops below the cost of production, then the manufacturer must find another method of retrieving the costs. In the case of mobile phones, the money is got back by using subsidising the phone cost with a long term contract. Which is why phones are often free with contracts, but can cost hundreds of pounds without a contract.

    I understand your frustration with inconsistencies between working hard and getting paid. It can be an injustice (especially in the case of moronic bankers), but this isn't connected to the price of luxuries.

  • Comment number 23.

    "Your description has the same gross income, but it is missing the production costs. A very basic descripton of the process is this:

    (price - development cost) x sales = profit

    Say you had a price of £10 for an item which cost £8 to produce, then your profit is (10-8) multiplied by the number of purchases. which in your description is 10. Making the profit £20.

    Let's apply that to the other example, 100 sales at £1. You'd have (£1 - £8) multiplied by 100. Profits totally -£700. A massive loss.

    As soon as the price drops below the cost of production, then the manufacturer must find another method of retrieving the costs. In the case of mobile phones, the money is got back by using subsidising the phone cost with a long term contract. Which is why phones are often free with contracts, but can cost hundreds of pounds without a contract.

    I understand your frustration with inconsistencies between working hard and getting paid. It can be an injustice (especially in the case of moronic bankers), but this isn't connected to the price of luxuries."

    -----------


    I fully understand that you have to take production costs into account. It was merely an example to make a point. The iPhone and most technological items can easily have their prices slashed to the point where the companies still make a comfortable profit and those of us who cannot currently afford them will then be able to.

    If you look at the basic production costs of the iPhone I'd lay a months wages on the costs actually being quite low compared to how they are priced. It is rumoured that they actually cost as little as $100 to make now, for the 3G and 3GS versions and yet they are rumoured to be selling them to US phone companies for something in the region of $399 per handset. So god knows what O2 paid for them and how much we are being ripped off by.

    And I'd also like to point out that Apple make a tidy profit from contract iPhones, certainly in America where AT&T were rumoured to be paying them somewhere in the region of $300 per iPhone sold in 2008. So it's not like Apple are subsidising anything at all. And I doubt AT&T lost anything on their deal with Apple either because the increased revenue from those customers signing up to the ridiculous (albeit still cheaper than here in the UK) contracts, which no doubt had the $300 per handset factored in somewhere down the line, will have gained them some new customers that they may not have had without the iPhone. O2 I would imagine also signed a very similar deal.

    And yes inconsistency in salaries is connected to the price of luxuries, working hard and not being paid a fair amount means that I and others like myself cannot afford certain luxuries because corporations like Apple wish to maintain "brand exclusivity", and I'll point out that luxuries often become necessities, the motor car is a good example of that, once seen as a luxury it is now a necessity, purely because we have a completely rubbish public transport system (I know, I use it every day, and wish I could afford to get a car), either that or our luxuries are superseded and in order to replace those now defunct luxuries because we actually do need them, in the case of mobile phones which are very useful, or because they are how we relieve ourselves of stress after a hard days work, in the case of TV, we have to buy a new, very often more expensive, product.

    So you see inconsistency in salaries is connected to the price of luxuries.

    Enforced technological upgrades don't affect the wealthy as much as they do the less wealthy, whether they are for luxury items or vital items, and I can foresee a time when the current crop of mobile phones, even the BlackBerry and iPhone, are made redundant because our government wishes us all to move to 4G or 5G or whatever the next generations of mobile communications networks will be. It's not been long since analogue mobile phones were phased out.

    There is no reason on earth, besides pure greed, why everyone should not be able to afford to have the same items as each other, whether we all want to have the same items as each other is another matter, but certainly there isn't any reason I can see that we should not all be on an equal footing in terms of being able to afford such items.

    Perhaps however that is a rather communist view that is not welcome in such a capitalist age.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think you're simplifying the process of developing a product and making a profit on it far too much.

    One thing I didn't mention before is that there isn't a literal "price per item". It is one that is calculated. Of course the manufacturing process can be calculated per item, but the initial cost of research, development, prototyping and all that is usually a huge sum of money. The actual per-item cost of this is then an estimated figure based on predicted sales.

    I couldn't begin to guess what Apple or RIM have estimated this value to be or whether they're capable of cutting prices to a level that everyone can afford. It's an incredibly complex issue.

    I'm not suggesting that prices can't go down and that companies don't ever keep prices artificially high. I'm just saying it's not a simple process to lower them and that there is a huge amount of calculations and estimates that take place.

  • Comment number 25.

    TVCatchup is a spectacular product, one of the most exciting innovations in the iPhone world. I've had
    some annoying experiences when streaming over 3g but have also watched entire films of 2+ hours over 3g without interruption. If this isn't the time for mobile TV to take off then it never will!

  • Comment number 26.

    I subscribe to Sky+HD, think I pay around £57/month, although I only generally watch channels that are available on Freeview and SkySports

    The new Sky Mobile TV iPhone App, means I can subscribe to SkySports AND ESPN for only £6/month, I've just been and purchased an iPhone TV-Out cable from Amazon and can now watch all the SkySPorts channels on my TV for only £6/month.

    Bargain!!! Cancelled Sky subscription and than to this App I'm saving about £51/month, thank you Sky

    I also just discovered TVCatchup.com - great.

  • Comment number 27.

    Forgot to add, I use iPlayer on the iPhone regularly, just want Channel 4 to make 4OD work and then when Hulu launch in the UK, mobile TV will have come of age.

  • Comment number 28.

    "24. At 3:56pm on 14 Nov 2009, Pixelvision wrote:

    I think you're simplifying the process of developing a product and making a profit on it far too much.

    One thing I didn't mention before is that there isn't a literal "price per item". It is one that is calculated. Of course the manufacturing process can be calculated per item, but the initial cost of research, development, prototyping and all that is usually a huge sum of money. The actual per-item cost of this is then an estimated figure based on predicted sales.

    I couldn't begin to guess what Apple or RIM have estimated this value to be or whether they're capable of cutting prices to a level that everyone can afford. It's an incredibly complex issue.

    I'm not suggesting that prices can't go down and that companies don't ever keep prices artificially high. I'm just saying it's not a simple process to lower them and that there is a huge amount of calculations and estimates that take place."

    ----------

    Well perhaps I am over simplifying it but I'm just going by what I have been reading elsewhere, on sites with proper technology articles/blogs that don't just advertise for Apple and their iPhone apps.

    However the fact still remains that low paid workers, the majority of whom work just as hard as anyone else, are being left behind when it comes to the advances in technology and the delivery of content, simply because companies are pricing us out of the market.

    Take video games for examples, many are released on multiple platforms, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii etc, but one master version is developed on one platform and then a porting process takes place to get it onto the other platforms, as I understand it. If I wish to play a game on my Xbox 360 and my PC I have to pay twice for a game which is exactly the same on both platforms. Personally I don't see a reason why that should be the case, it's profiteering at it's basic level.

    The same goes for mobile video streaming, if you have a Sky sub, which I don't, you are now expected to pay £6 per month for content that you've paid for already in your Sky sub if you want to watch it on your iPhone. Again to me that smacks of profiteering.

    To me the whole way we are expected to pay for things in this country, if not the whole world, is geared towards mass profit, rather than driving technology forwards. It seems that companies sit down and think "right what "new" technology can we come up with (or "borrow" from an inventor/independent developer) to make a profit", rather than sitting down and thinking "right how can we make technology better".

    I recently had an email from M$ about an upcoming Xbox live update, and two of the added "features" are Facebook and Twitter usage, but they're only available if you pay for an Xbox live gold subscription, and yet on a PC Facebook and Twitter are free to use. So not only do I have to pay for my internet but if I wish to twit or use Facebook, not that I do, I would have to pay again, for something that is otherwise free to use!

    Such things are getting beyond a joke. But the sad fact is that people do sign up for such services and once enough people sign up for them they become the norm and we seem to have a "I'm all right jack" mentality here in the UK when it comes to preserving things that everyone can access.

  • Comment number 29.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 30.

    had this for 5 days now, its been really brilliant, easy to watch on iphone, certainly worth £6 a month if you dont alrady have sky sports, BUT, tonite it was awful, would play for 2-3 mins. and then glitch, crash, lock etc. with file not found. Isolated ?? anyone else experience this?
    Before this it would be a no brainer for me, but now im not keen if this happens.

 

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