Mobile TV Showing Some Traction in Europe

I continue to be bearish on mobile TV in the US: the price + poor experience = limited demand. In Asia it's a different story but there you have a more advanced infrastructure, phones and, perhaps most importantly, different cultures. But the NY Times reports that mobile TV has some adherents and viewers in Europe:

Every day in Switzerland, 40,000 people watch a 100-second television news broadcast on their cellphones. In Italy, a million people pay as much as 19 euros each ($29) a month to watch up to a dozen mobile TV channels.

Japan is the leader in direct mobile television, with 20 million cellphones equipped with TV receivers, followed by South Korea with 8.2 million, according to In-Stat, a research and consulting firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. In-Stat estimated that there were 29.7 million mobile TV viewers worldwide at the end of 2007. That is expected to almost double, to 56.9 million, at the end of 2008, driven by growth in Japan.

Italy has been an early leader in Europe, with service beginning in 2006. The largest mobile TV broadcaster on the Continent is 3 Italia, a cellular operator owned by Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, with 800,000 customers, about 10 percent of its total phone clients. The million Italian viewers watch up to a dozen channels.

Swisscom offers a 20-channel viewing lineup, which costs 13 Swiss francs ($12.50) a month.

In order for mobile TV to happen on any kind of scale in the US, you need the following to come together:

  • Better phones with resolution equal to video iPods
  • Pricing that is bundled as part of a high-end subscription package (or entirely ad-supported a la conventional broadcast TV)
  • Streaming/transmission that doesn't stutter or get continuously interrupted

Even with all these things, Americans will have limited appetite for full-length content. Instead, clips and short-form video will prevail.

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Related: Wired offers a review of AT&T's new mobile TV (MediaFLO).