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Mobile TV services - TV for our times?

10 сентября 2009

With progress on broadcast networks stalled, what can operators do to stay relevant in the mobile TV market?

There was a story that footballer George Best loved to tell about himself. Supposedly, one morning George was spotted by a hotel bellboy lying on a hotel bed, surrounded by empty champagne bottles and thousands of pounds in cash. Next to him in the bed lay a former Miss World. The bell boy takes the whole scene in and says, "George, where did it all go wrong?"

It's a question one might ask of mobile broadcast TV. Except that if mobile broadcast TV was lying in a hotel bed, it would be surrounded only by thousands of broken business plans and dreams.

When it was first proposed, mobile TV  created quite a stir in the technology and communications community with a promise of grandeur. Research company InStat notes that this promise is easy to understand in that mobile TV combines the greatest communications trend in the last 20 years, mobility, with the people's love of TV.

"Mobile TV, however, has been a disappointment to many," an InStat report claims. "After many years of digital standards melees, the growth of subscription-based digital TV subscriptions has not materialised to the degree that was originally anticipated, despite some impressive service offerings that have been brought to market."

Olivier Dhotel, Director Mobile TV, Group Strategic Marketing, tells Mobile Europe that although the operator is experiencing great growth on its TV services, the promise of digital broadcast TV seems to be receding.

The problem this brings is that broadcasters and content providers look at the numbers of subscribers viewing TV streams on mobile, and see nothing like the scale they are used to. The numbers, growing though they are, remain in the few hundred thousands, rather than the millions that the broadcasters are used to.

Dhotel admits that this is a problem. He says that when it comes to attracting content partners, many are "not exactly keen".

So in the absence of digital broadcast networks (yes, there are some, as in Italy and Austria, for example), what can oeprators do?

Partick Bossert of Convergys says that operators need to change the way they think about TV.

"The service provider business role has not changed. They should not try to be aggregators of contentand media, but instead provide the billing and customer care relationships to their users. A user might enter into a subscription with Sky directly, but with the right kind of package from the operator, a user could watch that same content and be billed for it on their phone bill. The operator then provides that customer relationship, which is already strong, on behalf of the content provider."

Bossert says that operators can therefore provide a service wrapper for the media owners. He also points out that they should not underestimate their regional power.

"A media publisher works on economies of scale. The cost of providing a global business with local support doesn't add up. But service providers do act locally, and already provide all the billing, marketing, protection and other customer services relevant to that market."

Bossert adds that there is another way operators could stay involved, and that is to carry out more packet detection and monetisation.

"People are happy to pay small amounts now for content," he says. Billing at the moment tends to be event agnostic and transmission media agnostic. These things could be charged for. A bundled tariff that includes low cost per-minute viewing is possible, but nobody seems to be doing that."

There is another alternative to the subscription-based mobile digital offerings that has been gaining momentum. The alternative utilises the existing analog free-to-air broadcast signals by placing a tuner in a mobile phone to receive programming, essentially creating analog mobile TV. The analog mobile TV phenomenon that found its genesis in China has since spread to other regions of the world, dependent only on the existence of available free-to-air broadcast signals.

Telegent has commissioned In-Stat to take a look at this mobile TV execution method: delivering mobile TV to handsets using analog signals, monetised strictly through advertising by the local broadcasters, otherwise known as free-to-air.

3G Mobile TV Services
There are advantages and disadvantages to both for mobile operators. While mobile operators can rely on their own network and offer more channels via 3G mobile TV streaming services, the video quality may not be consistent. The 3G mobile TV service is only available to those with 3G handsets and plans, so 3G mobile TV services cannot be offered to the entire subscriber base, unlike a mobile TV broadcast service.

The method of monetization for 3G mobile TV is typically subscription fees. Monthly subscription fees range from a few dollars per month to over $15 per month, depending on the number of channels offered and the service pricing for the region. Some operators offer hourly, daily, and weekly options to encourage usage as well.

Digital Broadcast
There is a fragmentation of standards for digital mobile TV broadcasting that appears to be the way of the future. In digital mobile TV broadcasting, several standards are being used, each mainly in one country, and that situation is likely to continue in the future. Examples are MediaFLO in the US, CMMB in China, and T-DMB in South Korea. The most widely deployed standard is DVB-H, in terms of number of countries in which the standard is available. In addition to being promoted by the European Union, DVB-H trials or limited services are operating in the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia, and Indonesia. Even though DVB-H has the widest deployment, it is fair to say that up-take has been fairly sluggish.

It is important to note the In-Stat predicts that the number of viewers of mobile digital free-to-air services will be greater than the number of subscription-based mobile digital viewers.

Unlike 3G mobile TV, handsets capable of receiving mobile digital TV need a special embedded digital tuner chip. This results in a higher per unit cost in the range of $30 to $100 to the consumer as well. In geographies such as the US where the operator subsidises the cost of the handset, the operator has extra pressure to recoup this higher subsidy cost in the form of higher ARPU.

Increasing penetration of broadband Internet access by consumers has contributed to an increase in online viewing of video content. The Internet can also provide access to TV and video content consumers already "own," delivered to their homes by cable or satellite providers and stored in digital format on digital video recorders. "Place shifting" represents a way to access that content from a remote location using the Internet.

The content is provided on a best effort basis, lacking the reliability that is expected from TV. Also, much of the valuable live content that drives demand for real time TV such as news, sports, and weather is often not available without a subscription fee as major media conglomerates have purchased those rights.

As the number of handsets with larger screens and data plans has increased, the popularity of consuming over-the-top content has also increased. Essentially, the handset is increasingly becoming another client upon which users can consume Internet video content, making it a competitor of mobile TV services.

The monetisation method of this content is usually advertising, making the content "free" to the end user. However, the video is not without cost. Unless the viewing device is using a personal area connection (PAN) like Bluetooth or a local area connection (LAN) such as Wi-Fi, the handset will incur data charge.

Analog Broadcast
Another option for mobile TV broadcasting was brought to market in Asia in 2007 and has since achieved consumer adoption in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia/CIS, the Middle East and Africa. Telegent Systems, a fabless CMOS semiconductor company, has developed a successful single-chip mobile TV receiver that enables mobile handsets to receive analog TV broadcasts.

Mobile handsets began shipping with analog TV receivers in mid 2007 and have become quite plentiful. By mid-2009, Telegent shipped more than 40 million ATV chips in a two-year period. There are many markets where digital broadcasts have not begun and analog shutoff is years away. Analog TV is free and the consumer just has to buy a handset with a receiver. This makes for an attractive proposition, similar to the one that has prompted consumers to snap up digital mobile TV broadcast receivers in Japan and South Korea, where the digital service is free-to-air.

Similar to digital mobile TV, analog mobile TV requires a separate tuner chip to enable the functionality. The cost to add the TV feature is less than US$10 per unit. It should be noted however that even though the analog broadcast solution requires an additional TV tuner, the feature can be implemented in low cost models and is therefore able to reach a consumer segment not addressed by higher end phone models, such as those that support 3G streaming solutions

As the various digital mobile TV standards were grabbing all the headlines, analog mobile TV-enabled handsets were quietly shipping. There were not any fights over standards. There were no new broadcast towers going up. And by the end of 2009, there will about 54 million analog mobile TV enabled handsets in service.

Источник: Mobile Europe

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