College Bowl Games as Seen on…Mobile?

I thoroughly enjoy this time of year. My delight comes not from the first significant snowfall or the impending holiday cheer but from my love of college football. I was taught at an early age, by my grandmother no less, that our family supported one, and only one, college football team: the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Through the years, this support/obsession has been graciously returned with more than a few winning seasons, Bowl appearances, and five national championships. Losing seasons as of late have resulted in failed promises of redemption and a few coaching changes for my beloved team, but my excitement for and anticipation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) never wanes.

Perhaps due to my love of the game or simply the slow pace of the office these past two weeks, a recent headline piqued my curiosity. I couldn’t have missed it if I tried, as it read: “Verizon Mobile TV Services to Offer 24 Full College Football Games.” Through a partnership on both the technical and content sides, the service is available exclusively to Verizon V Cast subscribers. Utilizing MediaFlo technology, Verizon will “air” Bowl games produced by Mobile ESPN (the remnants of the failed ESPN Mobile MVNO), CBS Mobile, and Fox Mobile. At first, I wasn’t really sure what to make of this announcement.

College football is best experienced live, as in layer on the most team-colored garb from your closet, tailgate prior to kickoff, and spend the rest of the afternoon on an emotional rollercoaster (if it’s a good game). Second best: watch a game in HD on a flat screen, with frequent pauses to close your eyes and recall memories of being in the home stadium. I don’t equate my preferred game-day experience with Verizon V CAST.

And I may not be alone here. TV and video were much hyped by the press as a killer app for mobile’s growth. For the past 18 months, early signs of consumer adoption and receptivity abroad were eagerly reported to verify the impending market uptick that we’d experience any day now. That day might still be a long way off.

EMarketer reports that during the first three months of 2007, there were 8.4 million mobile subscribers to some type of video content or package. That’s a 3.6 percent penetration rate. Generally speaking, the most accessed content tends to be viral, entertainment (e.g., movie trailers), news, and sports video clips. The portion of mobile video subscribers who watch clips on a weekly basis is under 1 percent, with watching often taking the form of “snacking” during down time, according to M:Metrics data. Snacking is a good descriptor, given the average clip hovers between two and three minutes, with five minutes being the max.

Keep in mind, college football games last three hours, on average. Three hours of opposing teams moving the ball across a large field, gaining and losing yardage most often measured by chains for accuracy. Oh, and the average mobile screen size is two inches.

I try hard to balance my pessimism and optimism toward the mobile market. I truly encourage and appreciate partnerships like those between Verizon, MediaFlo, and the mobile entities of ESPN, CBS, and Fox. But one has to wonder whether anyone thought about the consumer experience or expectation.

The growth of a mobile feature set cannot gain audience without content for subscribers to consume. A better bet may have been for a long-standing college BCS sponsor to partner with the likes of a tier-one carrier to custom create the ultimate BCS fan guide. This exclusive offering could have been loaded with game clips and highlights updated in real time. Or they could have created a platform for fans to create and share their love of the game. These features could have been tied to messaging updates or polling programs to tap into the most adopted mobile feature set.

As an avid college football fan, I’ll actively check scores and watch highlights via the mobile Web in coming weeks. But for the games that I really want to watch, there’s a local bar — or perhaps my media room complete with HD plasma — calling my name.

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