The cell phones began arriving in the first week of September. Slowly, people began finding reasons to stop by my office. They would come in, pick up whichever phone caught their attention, look at it, ask what it did (“It streams television”), hit a few buttons, and then leave.
Though mobile TV does, for the moment, suffer from technical limitations such as long buffering times and choppy streams, Sprint, Verizon, and Cingular have determined that the medium is now good enough to begin earning money for carriers. Most basic services – which offer channels such as ABC News or E! – cost roughly $10 to $15 per month, with pay-per-view clips sold for up to $4 and à la carte channels for upwards of $4 each.
And the carriers are right. Mobile TV is exciting. But for me, the daily thrill of playing around with phones that serve as teeny TVs began to fade just around the moment I crossed the threshold to my apartment after work. That’s because at home, I have absolute control over what I see and how I see it. I have a Hewlett-Packard Media Center PC, a buggy but powerful machine that, in addition to serving as an ordinary computer, utterly blurs the distinction between streaming Web video and broadcast television. It allows me to watch, record, and organize video content from any source – the Web, broadcast TV, or DVDs. And because I also use the Windows Media Center Extender, I can have all that content streamed directly to my television.
Simply put, mobile television is, for the moment, the exact opposite of that experience. While Comcast may own the pipeline into my home, it doesn’t control the information that goes through those pipes. With mobile television, the only way to get content on phones is through the gatekeepers. That means that Sprint, Verizon, and Cingular can potentially dictate what you see and how you see it.