Mobile Television: Yet another battle for airwaves

CANNES: Television has always been a battle for the airwaves and with the emergence of yet another screen which recieves content over the air, the scene is burning red. 

And this time around though there's not just TV broadcasters that are eyeing the hot cake, there are the telecom carriers (who already have the volumes, scale and CRM) the content producers, the mobile content specialists and so on. Mobile television is THE big wave currently and everyone's trying to get on board.

Various technologies like 3G and DVBH, etc are being tested and while technology selection will play a significant role for the players, it is the formation of a distribution value chain that works for all, which is the key issue.

The panelists for the session on Mobile TV distribution and funding at MIPCOM included Orange (France) Executive VP (Marketing) Julien Billlot, Freemantle Media (UK) Senior VP for Interactive Claire Tavernier, Qualcomm Senior Director Omar Javaid, BskyB(UK) Director of Business Development Stephen Nutall and Qpass (Austria) GM Europe Christian Lutz. The panel was moderated by MBlox Executive Chairman Andrew Bud.

All of the panelists have made and are making significant investments in Mobile TV.

Omar Javaid, whose company Qualcomm is investing a billion dollars to create MediaFlo a Mobile TV service in the US said, "We all have an interest in Mass market and for that we are investing a billion dollars into Mobile TV. The service should be available by around the same time next year. We believe that the quality not only of the user experience, but also the basic broadcast quality has to be better."

Giving his take on the business, BSkyB's Nutall said, "Its going to be a couple of years before this becomes big, but now is the right time to get in and garner expertise. BSkyB has alway been very innovative in the way we use technology for delivering our content and Mobile TV is yet another extension and great VAS for us."

"Very soon our Tier 1 customers will be offered broadband and mobile access to our content including Mobile TV," he added.

The operator's perspective in the panel was provided by Orange (France). Executive VP for marketing Billot said, "I think Mobile TV is already happening today. Currently we have over a 100,000 consumers and by the end of the year the number's going to go up to 500,000 and we expect it to reach a million by the end of next year."

"Mobile TV is one of the best applications that we can offer," he added.

Freemantle Media is one of the early movers amongst content creators to have built a strong strategy around the Mobile. SVP for Interactive, Tavernier shared, "The Traditional TV Value chain is under threat with PVRs and fragmentation. For a content provider it is a question of survival. For us though, the other reason is that creating content for the mobile is great fun and a lot of people at Freemantle are excited about it."

"We are taking on creative people from other industries like gaming and are developing some content especially for the mobile screen. Part of it will be extensions of our brands while part will be completely new programming," she added.

Defining the roles and laying the rules for the game. As of now there is no clear picture as to what the value chain will eventually emerge to be when Mobile TV gains a mass market.

There are various arguments as to the role that the carriers will play. The carriers obviously are trying to garner expertise in content but many on the other side of the fence believe that content ought to be left to the specialists. At the same time it is very clear that getting a mass market is not possible without the carriers and their subsidising and packaging Mobile TV enabled handsets. Also the carriers are extremely significant in terms of they being the ones who've got carriage, billing and CRM.

"Content creators who develop domain skills for mobile content and ringtone portals which have billing relationships with customers for content are going to play a key role," opined Freemantle's Tavernier.

While the content creators are investing in developing mobile content expertise, the carriers too are investing in content. "We at Orange France are investing Ten Million Euros to buy content," remarked Billot.

Emphasising on the significance of the operators, Qualcomm's Omar Javaid pointed out that his Mobile TV venture was not bypassing operators but partnering with them. "We are not going direct to the consumer. We will look for wholesale buyers and shall reach consumers via the operators," he said.

Bandwidth and Spectrum are important issues and the limited availability of the same is playing a defining role in the value chain. "There is no spectrum for Broadcast to Mobile in the UK and so we are looking at other technologies." said BskyB's Nutall.

As the Mobile TV scene evolves, there's sure going to be some surprises to spring up as is always the case with any new content technology. For now though its wait and watch.

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