Mobile Video in Real Time

Just when you got used to the idea that your audience can download video to their cell phones and iPods, there’s a new, live, revolution around the corner. Through companies like MobiTV and SmartVideo, it’s now possible (though few are currently doing so) to watch live video programming from well-known providers like ABC News on cell phones. And if announcements made at NATPE this week are any indication, the opportunities will only expand in coming months.

In one development, an outfit called Modeo (fka Crown Castle Mobile Video) is planning to use the Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld (DVB-H) standard to deliver live mobile TV to the top 30 markets across the U.S. Simultaneously, the company joined with tech players Motorola, Intel, Nokia and Texas Instruments to form the Mobile Digital Television Alliance to push the open standard. Qualcomm, on the other hand, has teamed with Verizon Wireless, proprietor of the Vcast service, to deploy live broadcasts based on the MediaFLO system. The South Korean DMB is also enabling live mobile broadcasts.

Now, don’t let your eyes glaze over just because I’m using technological acronyms. What it really means is live video delivered in real time, which is cheaper than some of the other options because it’s one-to-many rather than one-to-one. And it needn’t be on a cell phone, either. The new technology standards are completely separate from the existing cellular networks, so users could either watch video on a cell phone equipped with the new technology, or access it via an appropriately-equipped PC, or iPod, or other portable device.

Consumers seem interested in this type of scenario. A JupiterResearch report issued in April 2005 found 15 percent of online users were interested in watching live TV programs, while only 7 percent expressed interest in downloaded video clips.

“People will probably do both,” Julie Ask, senior analyst at JupiterResearch, told me. “Here’s the best example. If I’m in the airport and it’s Thursday afternoon at 4:00. I want to watch a two minute clip of world news. But if it’s 9/11, I want to see that live.”

What about ads? A recent Starcom USA survey found nearly 70 percent of consumers would prefer to download ad-free content, but almost one in five would still download ad-supported content. If it were sponsored or had a brand integrated, even more would download it. In contrast, a recent Points North Group survey found that users nearly three to one preferred free ad-supported content over paying $1.99 for ad-free content. That survey focused on online, satellite or cable distribution, however, rather than mobile. Needless to say, the jury’s still out.

I’m willing to wager, however, we’ll see advertising take a prominent place in mobile video, and potentially live mobile video, in the months and years to come. The Mobile Marketing Association’s executive director, Laura Marriott, agrees. “Mobile video advertising is one of the next focus areas for our standards discussion,” she told me, adding that Verizon Wireless, MobiTV, AOL, and Zingy are participating in talks. “We all believe that it is going to be a significantly large opportunity.”

Some considerations as this future begins to emerge:

  • Interactivity — While these new live mobile TV technologies don’t appear to enable interactivity themselves, Jupiter’s Ask suggests they’d be integrated with cellular phone networks to provide the back-and-forth capability. I can’t imagine any new medium being launched today without such interactive capabilities.

    So imagine all the features we’ve discussed for interactive TV, such as database building, the ability to watch more lengthy sponsor content, and the like, but on a device that is inherently more lean-forward than TV. In the case of the phone, it’s also inherently a communications device (like the PC), so something like click-to-call is a natural.

  • Targeting — Does “broadcast” take us back to the dark ages when you couldn’t “get to know” your viewer via their behavior? It seems so. But perhaps data generated through interactivity could be brought to bear to customize programming and advertising.
  • Challenges — The biggest challenge is also the smallest — audience size. “The big challenge is inventory,” says Ask. “Not a lot of people watch this, so how do you get a big enough market that makes it worth your while?” The most significant value — for now and in the near-term future — is in the learning to be gained. It’s learning that could be extremely valuable as adoption rates climb.

What do you do about it now? You might try contacting MobiTV, Modeo, SmartVideo or one of their content partners, including the free ad-supported Digital Music Video Network, and throw some experimental dollars in the direction of live mobile video.

If you do, or if you’re already involved, I’d love to hear from you.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.