Why mobile TV won't fly - TechCentral

Why mobile TV won’t fly

Arthur Goldstuck

More than four years after the first mobile-TV service was introduced, only 3,2m users worldwide are paying to receive broadcasts to their handsets, according to research by international analyst firm Juniper Research.

This is probably bad news for pay-TV incumbent MultiChoice and cellphone operator Vodacom, both of which have recently introduced mobile-TV products.

Juniper’s Windsor Holden, who authored the research report, says the figure represents just 0,1% of the worldwide mobile user base. “Even in markets where mobile pay-TV services are relatively well established, there is poor penetration.”

The research focuses on the use of digital video broadcasting as the channel for delivering TV to handsets, which Holden says has only really gained traction in markets where it has been offered as a free companion for subscribers to conventional pay-TV products.

Korea, one of the world’s most tech-savvy nations, launched a mobile service in 2005, and has just 2% penetration; Italy began its service in 2006 and has only 1,4% penetration. Yet Holden says these two countries have been relatively successful in their implementations.

Research by local technology research firm World Wide Worx shows the outlook for SA’s mobile TV providers is just as bleak.

Free-to-air broadcaster e.tv was granted a mobile TV licence earlier this year. However, the company does not yet have a licence in hand and will only reveal details of its planned service when it receives the physical document.

MultiChoice and failing newcomer Super 5 Media have applied for the one remaining licence and are waiting for their regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), to name the winning bidder.

Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka says the process is at “an advanced stage”. The next step is to ensure both players have complied with the invitation to apply and the regulations.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says broadcasters may be shooting in the dark with their mobile offerings.

He says the appetite for mobile TV in SA is exceptionally low, with only 1% of mobile users saying they will be willing to try out the service, a sharp decline in interest over the last four years.

During the 2006 soccer World Cup held in Germany, local broadcasters and mobile providers ran pilots to see whether a mobile digital video broadcasting service would gain traction in SA. About 6% were prepared to give the technology a chance.

“Disappointment in the service is the most likely reason the interest in mobile TV has decreased,” Goldstuck says.

He says the appetite can still be created, but it is unlikely it will produce the mass uptake that many broadcasters are hoping for.

Both MultiChoice and Vodacom recently launched streaming TV services, which can be accessed using third-generation (3G) mobile handsets.

Internationally, video streaming has gained more viewers than regular broadcast services to mobile phones.

Juniper’s research says Wi-Fi networks have made mobile Web streaming easier, generating slightly more interest in the service than the full broadcast equivalent.  — Candice Jones, TechCentral


  1. Don’t get caught up on the “pay” part. The number of folks who actually watch TV on their mobiles includes those who watch it for free. What’s to stop you going to Hulu on your i-Pad or i-Phone? Oh, right- lack of bandwidth and a tiered plan that would get wrecked by actually using a Gb of bandwidth. But the times, they are a’changin’ South Africa- when the caps move up and prices down, folks will do what’s convenient, and providers will need to be ready with mobile-TV or lose differentiation.

    Even if it’s a cost-center for broadcasters, they will need to have it.

  2. Just to clarify – that figure of 3.2 million is those who pay to watch services – the number who receive free to air mobile TV (whether through ISDB-T in Japan, or through reception of analogue terrestrial services in developing/emerging markets) is significantly higher – well over 100 million now…

  3. Headline is misleading. Neither the writer nor Goldstuck actually tell us WHY mobile TV has failed, simply that reception has been frosty. My guess? It’s much harder (almost impossible) to watch TV while moving around than it is to talk on the phone, listen to music or even send and read messages. Ever tried to multitask while watching TV?

  4. Mobile TV doesn’t have to “fly” to be successful. 2% of any population is a good enough market to build a good, profitable business these days.

  5. Graeme Trautmann on

    This strikes me as another product developed not out of a “need” but simply an unjustified “want”. I doubt it will ever reach the “demand” stage.

    Blodot is correct. You can e-mail while listening to music but not watching TV!

    I wish the operators would get their priorities right.

  6. So why is it not gaining traction in the market? People don’t like to watch tv on a handset? I thought, especially in commuter intensive countries, it would be popular.

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