Free Media Essay: Mobile TV – Has its time come?

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2021
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Mobile TV: Has its time come?

The first mobile television was a pocket sized device with a 2-inch Cathode Ray Tube screen called Microvision or MTV-1. The device retailed at a price of ?100 was sold to the public in January, 1977. The first mobile TV was developed over a period of 10 years with a funding of ?1.6 million from the British government. The debate about mobile TV has undergone tremendous changes since the days of MTV-1. The most important of these changes is the proliferation of mobile phones. Today, there are close to 5 billion mobile users in the world (International Telecommunication Union, 2010). The proliferation of mobile phones has meant that mobile TV today is synonymous with TV on mobile phones.

Mobile TV offers great potential to engage the audience in new forms of entertainment and interaction thanks to digital convergence. When the television operators are facing increasing competition from content delivered on the internet, mobile TV offers a new distribution channel for the operators. The advent of 3G networks and devices has addressed the issue of mobile TV technology to a large extent. Governments have realised the benefits of better telecommunication infrastructure and are investing great sums of money on improving the same. By the end of this year, 940 million people are expected to be using 3G services. Some countries like United States, Norway and Sweden are also offering services on 4G networks (International Telecommunication Union, 2010). More than 3 decades after the first mobile TV device was commercially sold, has the time come finally come for mobile TV?

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The author wishes to explore the potential for mobile TV in the context of the information age. The author considers the social, technological and economic aspects of mobile TV in doing so. The research essay is organized into the following sections: market for mobile TV, technologies for mobile TV, challenges for mobile TV, role of information systems and opportunities for mobile TV. The final section includes discussion and conclusion.

Market for Mobile TV

In order to understand the market for the mobile TV, the author first considers the usefulness and utility of mobile TV from the end users perspective. Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) proposed by Davies (1989) is a well respected model for determining the acceptance and the usage of a technology. Jung et. al. (2009) have applied TAM to study the consumer adoption of mobile TV. The author wishes to use TAM on the same lines. Technology Acceptance Model proposes that ease of use and usefulness of a technology predict its usage. Two central concepts of TAM are Perceived Usefulness and Perceived Ease of Use. Perceived usefulness is the degree to which a person believes that a particular information system would enhance his or her job performance. In this case, mobile TV is the information system and the user is seeking entertainment in the form of watching mobile TV. Perceived ease of use is the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would be free of effort.

The traditional broadcast media allows users only to be consumers and enables a one way communication: from broadcaster to the user. On the other hand, social media, enabled by Web 2.0, makes the experience more engaging by allowing the user to participate in the production of new information and combine different streams of entertainment and information together. In this respect, mobile TV can be very useful for the end user in many situations. Mobile TV makes entertainment more interesting and engaging. Mobile TV serves as a personal entertainment device, offers closer interaction with TV and also caters to the needs of people who want on-the-go entertainment. More than 5 billion people have experience with using mobile phones and 1.4 billion households have TV (International Telecommunication Union, 2010). A large number of users are experienced in using both TVs and mobile phones and as a result, the ease of use of mobile TV can be considered to be similar to that of mobile phones and TVs. Mobile TV has the potential to gain user acceptance and create a new market as can be seen from its usefulness and ease of use.

Mobile TV provides a new distribution channel for the broadcasters. With mobile TV, users can watch TV on the go. This will increase the time spent watching the TV and might bring better advertising revenues to the broadcasters. Mobile TV enables the broadcasters to capture more data on the usage and user preference. This will not only enable broadcasters to charge users based on usage, but also enable them to customize programs to meet user needs. Mobile TV also provides a new revenue generation opportunity to the telephone service providers, who can provide digital TV as a value added service on their networks.

Mobile TV has the potential to be a win-win opportunity for the users, broadcasters and telephone service providers. In the next section, we will explore the technologies that make mobile TV possible and its challenges.

Technologies for Mobile TV

The technologies associated with Mobile TV can be classified under 3 categories for analysis: Networks, Devices and, Content and Functionality.

Networks: Mobile TV is one of the applications of 3G networks, which has a user base of 940 million people. Though both underdeveloped and developing countries are heavily investing in telecommunication infrastructure, it is still some time before 3G networks reach the scale and coverage of traditional TV networks. Networks supporting 3G are also not capable of providing high quality TV content to mobile devices.
Devices: Mobile TV brings a number of challenges to mobile phones. The main challenges are: Memory, Power Consumption, User Interface and Processing Power.
Memory: Mobile TV demands higher buffering requirements and as a result larger memory capacity.
Power Consumption: The power consumption of phones supporting mobile TV will be higher than that of other phones. The devices should support long lasting batteries. The devices should be light weight and dissipate heat correctly.
User Interface: The screen should be much larger in phones supporting mobile TV.
Processing Power: Phones supporting mobile TV must have better processing power. As image and video processing applications are very process intensive.
Content and Functionality: It is important to consider the kind of content users want to view on mobile TV and additional functionality that they demand. Studies have shown that typical mobile TV usage to be less than 10 minutes (Knoche & McCarthy, 2005). Users have complained of loss of visual detail and legibility of text as main problems. These issues might spoil the movie watching experience. New experiments are being tried out to modify the traditional TV content to suit the mobile TV. For example, episodes of some TV programmes have been remade into mobisodes to suit viewing on mobile phones. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences instituted a new Emmy awards category for such programmes, which are meant to be viewed on computers, mobile phones, PDAs and other portable media players (Carey & Greenberg, 2006). Users treat mobile TV as a wireless multimedia device rather than as a TV (Sodergard, 2003). As result, users might expect search, book marking, recording and editing functionalities to name a few.
Challenges for Mobile TV

In 2005, South Korea became the first country in the world to offer TV on mobile phones (Paulson, 2006). Since then a number of broadcasters and operators have tried to offer mobile TV. The early forays into the mobile TV space were met with failure. In UK, British Telecom launched their mobile TV offering in September, 2006. It however closed down in the first year of its operation. Mobiles Fernsehen Deutschland of Germany and 3 of Italy also met with the same fate.

The early forays failed due to a number of challenges and some of these challenges are relevant even today for mobile TV. Some of these challenges have been highlighted above. Firstly, people want to watch TV on a big screen. Though the screen size of the phones has increased over the years, it might not be enough. Secondly, consumers are happy watching low quality video when it is free ex: on YouTube. But, consumers want high quality video when they are paying for it. Even with 3G networks, the available capacity is not enough to deliver high quality video content. TV content is transcoded and optimized before it is delivered to mobile phones. The process of transcoding and optimizing takes some time and as a result broadcasting live events poses a big challenge. Thirdly, there is currently less mobile TV content available with the broadcasters and hence, the telephone service providers are unwilling to form partnerships with them. Without these partnerships it is not possible to attract more users to adapt mobile TV.

Role of Information Systems

Information System has a critical role to play if mobile TV has to become a reality. A well conceived information system can bring benefits to all the three parties: users, broadcasters and telephone service providers.

Users: Users will be able to analyze their TV usage and pay for individual shows instead of entire channels. This might result in significant cost savings to the user and at the same time force the broadcasters to produce good quality content and content that matches the user preferences
Broadcasters: Information Systems will help the broadcasters to track the usage and learn about user preferences. This will help broadcasters to produce targeted and customized content. Broadcasters will also be able to push targeted advertised. Targeted advertising has the potential to generate large revenues for the broadcasters. Broadcasters will also be able to provide better user experience by collaborating with telephone service providers and integrating their TV offerings with internet.
Telephone and Internet Service Providers: Telephone prices have come down drastically and service providers are looking at new revenue streams. Considering that a trillion hours of time is spent every year on watching television in the United States alone (Shirky, 2010), mobile TV offers an exciting revenue stream to the service providers. Information Systems will service providers to collect and monetize data, and also to cross sell and up sell their products. Comcast allows free web content to mobile phone users in its Sprint network and up sells premium content.

Opportunities for Mobile TV

Many organizations like Nokia and Cisco (Cisco Systems, 2010) believe in the potential of mobile TV. News Corporation, one of the largest media houses in the world, has made available its popular music channel, Channel V, on mobile phones (News Corporation, 2009). The Chairman of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, has said that mobile TV is central to his company’s success in the age of digital journalism (Murdoch Says Mobile TV Is Key to Future, 2009). A number of developments contribute to the mobile TV opportunity. They are:

New business models are being experimented with. Comcast in the US allows subscribers to watch TV on 3 devices. It can also allow mobile devices.
New media and communication devices being launched are erasing the boundaries between laptops and mobile phones. For example, Samsung’s tablet PC Galaxy combines phone-like communication features with TV/ laptop like screen. Such devices are addressing many challenges that were highlighted above for mobile phones.
Expansion of 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) networks is expected to deliver better quality video and audio.
Content is being rethought for mobile phones. Mobisodes discussed earlier, is a good example.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has approved a new standard that allows high speed data transfers, compatibility with the worldwide web and international roaming for the third-generation (3G) IMT-2000 mobile phone systems. This announcement is going to accelerate the development of new and faster devices and networks.


Traditionally TV was as a family entertainment device intended to watch TV programs with family and interact with them. Mobile TV changes this idea and makes TV viewing an individual act. Individuals treat mobile TV as a wireless multimedia device rather than a TV (Sodergard, 2003). Therefore, if mobile TV has to be successful, it has to compete not only with traditional TV, but also with internet services offering video/ movie on demand. Mobile TV currently faces a number of challenges in reaching the masses. But, from the positive developments in terms of technologies, business models and collaborations explored in this essay, the author is cautiously optimistic that mobile TV will reach its expected potential in the near future.

When TV was first introduced to the world in 1920s, it was a small screen device. In the following decades, many portable TV devices were conceptualized and some implemented. Given the development of new devices fostering digital convergence, the improving communication infrastructures and the user preferences, it looks like the small TV is set to make a comeback in the form of mobile TV. The improvements in the communication networks, technical innovations and new business models definitely point in the direction of mobile TV. Has mobile TV’s time comeIn the author’s considered opinion, it definitely looks so.


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