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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why a mobile TV service is just like a zombie

Mark Bridge writes:

Here in the UK, we’re struggling a bit with mobile TV. Which made me wonder what the problem really was. Well, after a long evening with the finest stilton and the cheapest port, the answer came to me in a dream. A mobile TV service is just like the lurching, drooling nightmare creatures that appear in every zombie film. And once consumers understand zombies, they’ll understand the problems with mobile TV. Let me explain.

1.       It’s all a question of distance

From a distance, your average zombie looks pretty much like a normal human being. It’s only when you get closer that you realise they’re flesh-eating corpses. It’s the opposite with mobile TV. Watch it close-up and it’s rather like conventional TV. But move more than a few inches from the screen and it’s a barely-viewable monstrosity. The answer: produce more made-for-mobile TV programmes. Take a look at, for example. And stay away from anyone who looks as though they’re decomposing.

2.       They don’t like crowds

Zombies may look scary when they’re in crowds – but they end up tripping and trampling each other. Not unlike mobile TV reception. Most mobile TV in Europe isn’t transmitted ‘over the air’ like a conventional television signal. It’s an online service… and although it’s not hungry for blood, it is hungry for data. Watching TV over 3G is often a disjointed experience with images out of sync and the signal frequently lost altogether. Fill a room – or a railway carriage – with mobile TV viewers and you’ll hear more groaning than anything George A. Romero ever created.

3.       They’re not good with money

It’s rare to see a zombie generating any kind of income. Not unlike a mobile TV service. A recent report on ran the headline “Mobile TV sucks now, but it's nothing £500m won't fix”. It reported on the acclaimed FLO TV service, which was created by chip company Qualcomm and operates in the USA. Not only was it expensive to set up, it’s also unlikely to make it to the UK. As mobile TV analyst Alan Reiter points out, “European countries aren’t thrilled with further lining the pockets of the company that for many years has been exacting licensing fees for its cellular patents”.

4.       They don’t work well together

Zombies are generally simple creatures. They just want to attack, infect and devour human beings. Yet they tend not to work together. Sure, they’re often depicted in groups. But it’s a mob, not a partnership, with only the fittest – if you can ever have a ‘fit zombie’ – surviving. Similarly, mobile TV is largely a collection of individual standards, each fighting for supremacy. Here in the UK we’ve seen DAB-IP (the now-deceased Virgin Lobster phone), we’ve seen BSkyB trialling MediaFLO and we’re currently being encouraged to use the European Commission’s favoured DVB-H standard. Sooner or later a good-looking young actor with a shotgun will finish a couple of them off.

5.       They’ve got an image problem

As a result of that whole flesh-eating unpleasantness, zombies don’t have a good reputation. So why not change the name? Calling them the ‘corporeal undead’ or ‘life-impaired’ sounds a whole lot friendlier. And that’s one of the big problems with mobile TV. Although the description seems obvious, we don’t really know what ‘TV’ is these days. We happily watch YouTube clips on our smartphone… and then we tune in to ‘You’ve Been Framed’ on our television. What’s the difference? (Answer: Harry Hill’s commentary. But I digress). When we stop expecting ‘mobile TV’ to be just like TV at home and acknowledge it’s different – because it can’t help but be different, given the screen size and the audio experience – then we’ll start accepting it.

And that’s when I woke up from my dream. So – what conclusions did I draw? Good question. Rather like the ill-fated launch of WAP when BT Cellnet trumpeted “surf the net”, the mobile industry hasn’t done itself any favours with mobile TV. But if it manages its customers’ expectations – and if broadcasters create the programming that mobile consumers want – we’ll all survive to see a new dawn that’s devoid of anything too unpleasant. Unless that’s what you want to watch.

Author: The Fonecast
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