06 Jan 2006

Mobile TV

Vodafone TV

I’ve spent a few weeks watching the Vodafone 3G mobile TV service. It’s a TV-over-IP system, with a fair range of channels, such as MTV, Sky News, CNN, Cartoon Network, Discovery, plus various sports. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

  • It’s not on-demand, so you watch what’s broadcast.
  • There’s no EPG, which is strange. Not even an “now and next”.
  • News channels like to put text overlays on the picture, but you can’t read anything but the main headline ticker. This is a digital medium, so you’d expect one day for the text to be transmitted in a way that let’s the device render it appropriately.
  • Yes, you get mosaicing and stalling.
  • Some of the channels are broadcasting mobile-specific content, which seems to mean making the programmes shorter. The Discovery channels is branded as “Discovery Mobile”.
  • Yes, there are adverts.
  • On the Nokia N70 incoming calls interrupts TV completely, have to exit out of Real Player, back to the browser, select the stream again. There’s no TiVo-like pausing.
  • Sport, as you’d imagine is pretty much unwatchable. Except for slow mo replays, which are just fine, and in fact are the saving grace of sports.
  • It’s not possible to watch while on a train. I’ve tried on the Brighton to London route, and on other routes out of London, and you just drop out of 3G or the picture breaks up. Coverage will improve, and buffering will help, although once you get to 100% buffering you effectively have a video iPod.
  • I now fully appreciate that a big part of TV is sound. If you’re sitting in a noisy environment, trying to watch mobile TV through the poor quality headphones usually shipped with handsets, then you’re going to have a tough time.
  • There are no BBC channels offered: I wonder if there’s a TV license fee issue.

In summary, the system works, if you are more-or-less stationary and in good 3G coverage.

I’m not alone in trying this out, as according to The Guardian: “40% of Vodafone’s 3G phone customers used the service in the first 10 days, about 136,000 customers. They downloaded 1m streams of content. These numbers are good, but the content is free, so the real test will be February 1 when customers must start paying £5 a month for each of the two Sky Mobile packages on offer.” And in the US, 1.2 million people watch TV on the mobile phones (say eMarketer).

I’m having problems understanding who mobile TV is aimed at.

It’s not for commuters because the bandwidth isn’t there when you’re moving at the moment. That will change with a switch to broadcast TV, rather than IP TV.

The Vodafone offering is only good for TV browsing, and I’m not really a browser. Would I make use of it for some special events, such as a World Cup this year? Maybe… if I had no other option, and assuming the TV rights for the World Cup make it affordable to watch.

If I was starting out, and didn’t already have a TV, I might be interested in my mobile phone being my only TV.

There’s some development of made-for-mobile content:

  • If you’re addicted to Big Brother, the catch up clips on mobile might make sense.
  • Classic clips, or five minutes of a standup comedy routines, might have some appeal, but this is a move to more on-demand TV. BBC Three, I notice, allow you to watch some program clips, although they are more like adverts and are downloaded rather than streamed.
  • There’s a mobile-specific soap opera in the works.

The Economist comments on mobile TV that “the prospects for mobile TV are unclear. For a start, nobody really knows if consumers will pay for it, though surveys suggest they like the idea.”

We need better on-the-move quality and on-demand content. And even then I’m not sure how much I’d use it.

Vodafone TV: fail