Mobile TV: Killer App?

While I’m generally not a believer in “killer apps”, and I’m possibly even less keen on TV, Barron’s columnist Mark Veverka argues this weekend that mobile TV, on cellphones, natch, is a really, really big deal:

SOMETIMES A GADGET OR SERVICE COMES ALONG that knocks your socks off and possibly takes an entire industry by storm. Mobile video could very well have that kind of impact.

When I first heard about it, I yawned, figuring it was another geeked-out feature that would be too impractical or too difficult for the rest of us to use. Plus, the idea of watching television on a tiny screen on my cellphone didn’t seem especially enticing. On top of that, I’ve been trying to watch less television — not more — to set an example for my young kids.

Still, I think broad adoption of mobile video, which is being rolled out by wireless carriers and a few startups, is inevitable, because the price is going to be right. And I think people are becoming addicted to their mobile devices. Especially kids.

At least a couple of privately held startups have been making the rounds in Silicon Valley and beyond, chatting up their approaches to mobile video as they begin rolling out their services, MobiTV and GoTV. I met with both outfits this week, and in many ways, they’re very different.

MobiTV, which is operated by Idetic of Berkeley, Calif., basically is providing a live, streaming feed of popular broadcast and cable channels (some on-demand programming is available too).

GoTV Networks, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., not far from the studios’ back lots in Burbank, provides specially packaged “on-demand” versions of your favorite programs and networks. Both companies’ services can be watched on dozens of PDAs and mobile phones with color screens. Naturally, the more advanced the screen, software and chips, the better the quality of the picture. A JPEG chip — a special microprocessor designed for video — is often a key ingredient to better viewing on the hardware side.

Just to add personal fuel to the fire, I visited a stealth startup yesterday that did a jaw-dropping (in their favor) side-by-side comparison with MobiTV. I’ve also been looking at another startup that is taking things the next step: Mobile-to-mobile streaming video. Very neat.


  1. I think this idea, at least in the US, is incredibly stupid and too early. Who, except for techno-geeks and lazy, rich folk, are going to pay $10/mo. at minimum to watch clips of rehashed network programs on a 2″ screen? Is this what VCs have stooped to?

  2. Michael Robinson says:

    Yet another “horseless carriage” business plan.
    Some day in the (hopefully not too distant future), people are going to scratch their heads at how long the tail of the audio/video content industry managed to wag the dog of the consumer electronics and telecommunications industries.
    Think about it this way:
    Why isn’t “mobile audio” the next big thing? Why aren’t people going to listen to streaming channels of popular radio broadcasts on their mobile phones?
    Oh, yeah. The iPod. iTunes. Podcasting.
    So why does “mobile video” exist as a business model? Because the video rights owners don’t license the content on the same terms as the audio rights owners.
    In an alternate universe somewhere, everyone has an industry-standard “iPod” dock on their industy-standard PVR (“Tivo”)–which downloads content on demand from a variety of industry-standard video content aggregators (“NetFlix”).
    Business model aside, streaming mobile video just doesn’t make technological sense. The bane of personal electronics is battery life. Streaming video means you take the double power budget hit of powering high-data-rate radio circuitry as well as powering real time video decompression circuitry. Consumers will quickly discover that a dead battery seriously degrades the ability of a mobile phone to perform its primary function: making and receiving phone calls.

  3. I love podcasts, but I still want streaming mobile audio. I’m a BBC Radio 4 geek and love to get the news from them live over the internet. I wish that I could listen to it on the go.