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A View from Brad King

World Cup's Mobile TV Far From a Success

New mobile streaming television models are emerging thanks to the World Cup – but there’s still a long way to go.

  • July 5, 2006

Every four years, the world turns its eyes toward the “beautiful” game, watching scores of countries compete for soccer’s World Cup title. This year, though, for mobile technology companies, the games were also a referendum on mobile television penetration.

There was much talk about the tournament’s international flavor spurring the first real global test of mobile videos streaming to the masses. The BBC had a wonderful piece on this last month. David McQueen, an analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, said during a hosted event with Nokia and Texas Instruments in Germany that analysts expect “… $300 million in operator revenue to come just from users accessing streaming and broadcast services in June and early July to watch their favorite team play in international competition.”

Despite all the hype, though, the results have been mixed so far. Here is one report that found the streaming clip services provided by the BBC and others were hardly up to snuff, frustrating many English soccer fans who were desperately trying to watch the penalty shootout (which would eventually send the Brits home). Even a review extolling the virtues of the mobile television craze offered cautious praise for the sometimes jerky, buffering images.

It’s difficult to turn around live – or nearly live (say, 10 minutes after an event has happened, having it cut, and ready for distribution for the masses) – television in a mobile environment these days. I wrote a bit about this for TR a few months back (see “The Small Screen”). That makes announcements such as the MTV-iTunes partnership for the music network’s television shows far more interesting to consumers. For one thing, the shelf-life isn’t “right now,” which allows for a better quality experience.

Most World Cup viewing was restricted to highlight clips and short snippets, a far cry from the masses streaming television onto high-end mobile devices. And, it’s likely that Short Message Services (SMS) – those little text messages everyone sends these days – will continue be the biggest moneymaker for mobile companies in the near term. It’s certainly the most popular, according to this story.

The coming story, though, for the world of mobile video is one of standards. There are at least a half-dozen international standards being bandied about these days, with a dizzying array of acronyms, among them DVB-H, DMB, TDtv, ISDB-T, and FLO. Each has its backers, from Nokia to Qualcomm, and how this plays out will, in large measure, determine what types of services consumers receive.

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