Mobile TV has a lot of things going for it: a ton of hype, an eye-catching wow factor and, in one case, an $800 million dedicated network.
But it doesn’t have viewers. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
U.S. adoption of wireless TV is languishing around 1%, according to a study released last week by JupiterResearch, and interest in the stuff has halved – halved! – among consumers in the last two years as the novelty wears thin.
As the document points out, there is no shortage of reasons why the long-ballyhooed application has failed to attract users. Hit-and-miss network coverage, high price points and limited content options are to blame, as is a lack of affordable, video-friendly handsets that actually let users see what they’ re paying for.
Most of those problems will eventually be addressed, of course, as high-tech phones become cheaper and network operators continue to upgrade their infrastructures. Interestingly, traditional television broadcasters are sure to lower the cost barrier as they come to the mobile market with an impressive offering that allows TV stations to reach on-the-go users via a $100,000 transmitter.
But after spending another week away from home and my beloved widescreen and DVR, it is increasingly clear to me that mobile TV’s biggest problem is a lack of on-demand programming. Mobile-broadcast services such as those offered (or soon to be offered) by MediaFlo and the Open Mobile Video Coalition can’t support on-demand viewing. Instead of futilely flipping channels while I’ve been away from home, I’ve leaned heavily on Hulu.com and Netflix’s movie-streaming service as well as direct-to-consumer Internet offerings from content owners and traditional TV broadcasters.
That value proposition – allowing users to access what they want when they want it – is especially important in mobile, which accommodates a regular programming schedule about as well as Lindsay Lohan accommodates colleagues. And while it’s true that some carriers and other players like MobiTV have gained traction by tapping that market, on-demand services still rely on traditional cellular networks, leaving carriers to wonder how many viewers they really want to attract.
There are attractive use-case scenarios for live mobile TV, of course – I’d be happy to shell out a few bucks to watch an important ballgame on the go, and major news events such as natural disasters could easily attract flocks of wireless viewers. Also, I suppose there’s something to be said for the mass-transit user who wants to catch the local news on the train ride home every night.
Those cases are few and far between, though, and may require more complex business models. So for now, the industry will continue to try to lure users with the kind of programming they’re used to getting at home. And would-be viewers will continue to stay away in droves.