TV on the go

Written by Vrishti Beniwal | Updated: Jan 14 2008, 07:15am hrs
Want to watch Sachin hitting a century live on TV on your way back from office Or maybe, the latest episode of the Saas-Bahu soap, while on the move. Live TV on mobile phone is sure an exciting prospect in a country with over 230 million mobile phone connections and 120 million TV homes.

After scoffing at the idea of watching videos on a small screen, users and reviewers globally are gradually warming up to the idea of mobile TV. In India, groundwork for these services has already begun. Telecom and broadcasting regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has just rolled out its recommendations for launching these services. Handset manufacturers are waiting in the wings to commercially launch mobile TV in India. A niche section of the society is upbeat about the concept of entertainment-on-the-go. Considering that one in six people around the globe own a mobile phone and TV viewing is one of the most popular pastimes, the potential for mobile TV in India seems huge in the long run. Industry is hopeful of 5-8 million mobile TV users in India by 2010.

Its popularity could be higher in Asia. A Gartner study found that 20% of Asians like to get this service on their mobiles compared to only 5% of the Europeans showing interest in watching TV on their cell phones. Informa Telecoms & Media has projected that the Asia-Pacific market will have 68.4 million mobile broadcast TV users (55% of the worlds total) by 2010.

While South Korea had a head start in broadcast mobile TV, Japan has also been quick to embrace the opportunity and deploy new services. In the US, where people commute in self-driven cars, the revenue through mobile TV is not as high as in markets like Japan where people use a lot of public transport and spend a lot of time commuting. The Indian market is somewhat similar to Japan, say industry experts.

The deployment of mobile TV in India is expected to offer new business opportunities for content and broadcast companies, mobile service providers, infrastructure and handset manufacturers, and technology providers. Mobile operators hope an additional income of about Rs 250-500 a month from each mobile TV user will boost average revenue per user (ARPU), which are constantly declining due to fierce competition in the market.

It will obviously be targeted at a niche audience, to begin with. Today, a mobile TV phone costs more than the cost of the TV in your drawing room. And most of us might have to wait for prices for fall to lower levels.

News, music videos, comedy shows, sports clips and short dramas are more likely to appeal to mobile TV users than big budget movies or wildlife documentaries, where visual impact is crucial to the appeal of the programme. Mobile TV launch will also lead to user-generated content, which may be supported by advertising. Moreover, the content will be tailored with the mobile viewer in mind. For instance, more close-ups to enable users see greater details.

Target audience is youth and business people on the go. The mobile TV users are expected to be in the age group of 18-34, who are comfortable with texting, streaming, podcasting and other technologies built into small, mobile communications devices and have a passion for new technology. Teens are also likely to adopt the new medium as for them, it may become fashionable to watch television on small mobile screens. Besides, mobile TV will be an essential part of life for business people who are often on the go, says Vineet Taneja, director multimedia, Nokia. Compared to TV viewing, which has largely been place-bound with family members wrangling over the remote control to watch their favourite shows, mobile TV will give users a more personal experience of viewing content wherever they go. Nokia sees it as the second TV at home. While you are in a restaurant or at the airport, mobile TV brings you a connected experience, saysTaneja.

Mobile TV, for starters, typically means live TV transmitted through digital broadcasting technologies such as DVB-H (digital video broadcastinghandheld) and DMB (digital multimedia broadcasting). As broadcast network for digital mobile TV is different from cellular networks, 3G is not a pre-requisite for this type of mobile TV. Networks with transmission sites and supporting handsets need to be in place for the DVB-H to take off. DVB-H is under initial phase of rollout in Europe, whereas Samsung has introduced five satellite DMB phones in the Korean market and is planning to introduce more such devices over the next few years. DMB handsets in Korea are priced at about Rs 40,000. Nokia has launched DVB-H enabled devices N92 and N77 in India at Rs 21,000 and Rs 22,500, respectively. The devices let its users in New Delhi view eight Doordarshan channels. Nokia will extend its support to other cities by making its DVB-H devices available as and when Doordarshan plans to expand its mobile TV services to other cities.

The other form of mobile TV is similar to video-on-demand, where operators work with content providers to host video clips downloaded on demand by users. Such videos are delivered through the data channels of the existing cellular network. As GPRS networks can barely support high-speed video streaming, this kind of mobile TV has to wait till 3G networks are in place.

With little clarity on the launch of 3G services, some value added service providers have apprehensions about the robust takeoff of mobile TV in the short-run. It will take at least 18 months before things like licensing and networks are sorted out. Compared to evolved markets like Japan where consumers have a lot of choice, India has only two mobile TV enabled handsets as of now. The market share of such handsets as well as GPRS enabled mobiles is miniscule, says Neeraj Roy, MD & CEO, Hungama Mobile.

Trai has recently suggested auction of spectrum for mobile TV services. Operators having cellular mobile telephone service license or unified access service license would not need any further license for offering mobile TV services on their own network, according to the regulator. It suggested creating a new class of mobile TV operators using broadcast method. The recommendations are yet to be accepted by the government.

Viren Popli, senior vice-president, Star Mobile Entertainment, however, feels mobile TV launch would lead to an incremental revenue opportunity for the broadcasters. As we have seen Indians are very comfortable with new technology, mobile TV may become a mass product in two to five years. Nobody expected mobile music would be as big as its today, he says.

Early experiments from the first few videos available over mobile phones seem to be encouraging. Star Mobile Entertainment has entered into a pact with Sony Ericsson to offer pre-loaded PLUS application on the handset manufacturers Walkman and Cyber-shot phones. The service allows users to access over 200 videos at Rs 30 a month.

Likewise, MTV, in an exclusive tie-up with Vodafone, has launched a series of animated music videos. BSNL is providing channels such as NDTV, CNBC and Cartoon Network to its subscribers through GPRS. The mobile TV service on Reliance Communications digital platform Mobile World is charged at Rs 3 per minute, which is nearly three times more than 99 paisa a minute tariff for a voice call. In December 2006, it premiered worlds first mobile movie Ctrl+Alt+Del, on Reliance Mobile World. The 25-minute film featuring Rahul Bose was specially produced for the mobile platform by Phonethics Mobile Media.

The current rollout by Idea Cellular for mobile TV is offered as a basic streaming service with a bouquet of 20 channels at Rs 150 a month. Once the rollout and off-take reaches mass adoption, that is over 50% of the operator telecom base, we may expect a rise in the arpu. We expect it will overtake mobile music sales about 3-4 years post deployment. We expect mobile TV service would be in the range of Rs 150-200 per month for a bouquet of channels, says an Idea spokesperson.

Pricing models will be a combination of monthly subscriptions and payment for individual programmes but for continuous streaming TV, its up to the mobile operators to decide how to price it. Most are going for the model thats been very successful in traditional pay TVa wide variety of channels offered for a relatively affordable monthly price, says Romal Shetty, executive director and head of telecom practice, KPMG.

Some operators are also experimenting with daily pricing, to encourage sampling and to get people familiar with the idea. Handset providers are spending a lot of time, money and resources to ensure that dealers are educated with respect to the usability of high-end applications and services. Samsung and Nokia are going to work together to achieve interoperability amongst their DVB-H devices and the open standards-based Nokia network services system, says Shetty.

We are ready to launch mobile TV handsets in India once the market matures and 3G policies are in place. Initially, metros and urban towns will be the target cities for mobile TV which can slowly filter out to other semi-urban towns, says Asim Warsi, general manager, marketing, Samsung.

In a nutshell, mobile TV can be a success in India in due time if we overcome the initial hurdles like fixed 3G policy, spectrum allocation, cost of mobile TV compatible handsets, designing of suitable content for mobile TV and speed of video streaming. There will be certain barriers that the networks and handset manufacturers are unlikely to be able to overcome, such as screen size. But if they deal with issues such as reception, ensuring the service works properly for those that do sign up for it, and continue to target the younger age groups that are most receptive to this service, then we may see more significant growth in the forthcoming year, says Shetty.

And many feel it could give music downloads a tough competition. But mobile pundits continue to believe that music will continue to be a major revenue generator and expect its market share to fall marginally as TV on the go starts the second episode of mobile entertainment.