TV stations’ future success is tied to mobile broadcasting. And the biggest allure of such a service, beyond the obvious convenience, is that it will be available to consumers for free. But broadcasters need to get busy and equip their stations to air mobile signals, acquire (or confirm they have) the mobile rights to network programming, put in place a good system for measuring mobile viewership and convince cell phones manufacturers to install chips that can receive their mobile signals.
I had the privilege last month of speaking to the communications class of Dr. Mara Einstein at New York University about the state of the TV station business. It was mostly a sad tale of falling ratings and revenue, but I did try to identify some of the opportunities that I believe will sustain the business for at least the next decade or so.
I can’t gauge what the undergraduates leaned from me, but I know what I learned from them: mobile is broadcasters’ best (last?) chance to recapture young viewers.
Maybe this is a reflection of me and my presentation skills, but mobile was the only topic that seemed to interest them. None seemed to share my (or Dr. Einstein’s) fascination with retransmission consent, if you can believe that.
Mobile got some good back-and-forth going. The undergrads were interested in how it worked and seemed to like to idea of being able to tune into their favorite broadcast TV shows on their cell phones and other portable devices. As you should know, those devices are where they live — phoning, texting, listening to music and lord knows what else.
And they particularly liked (and were somewhat surprised) by the notion that the service would be free. So far, most mobile video offerings are pay. For instance, MediaFlo offers 12-15 channels, including CBS, NBC and Fox, and several top cable networks for $15 per month. MobiTV’s array of primetime broadcast and cable programming adds $10 to the monthly budget.
Free, it turns out, is a powerful force in the marketplace.
My sense of the informal NYU focus group is reinforced this week by a new consumer survey commissioned by QuickPlay Media, a Toronto-based provider of mobile TV and video services.
According to a survey of 1,000 mobile users between 18 and 25, the No. 1 reason the respondents have shunned mobile TV is the perceived cost, and 51 percent said they would be willing to accept advertising if they got to watch for free.
The study has a couple of other interesting findings. A quarter of mobile TV users say they watch between daily activities, 16 percent while in transit (on a bus, for instance) and 11 percent while waiting in line.
For me, the most surprising finding is that 30 percent of mobile TV users are watching while at home. That’s up from 11 percent last year and suggests that mobile TV might be better thought of as personal TV. You might be watching on the bus or you might be watching under the covers after bedtime.
This is all good news for the broadcasters who are moving ahead with plans to simulcast their regular broadcast signals using a hunk of their DTV spectrum and the transmission standard developed by the industry’s Open Mobile Video Coalition and the ATSC.
Another study we linked to this week says the broadcasters’ planned free, ad-supported mobile TV service may be just what the entire mobile TV business has been waiting for.
NSR, a Boston-based research firm, says the number of TV-enabled phones will grow to more than 32 million by 2013 thanks in large part to the availability of the broadcasters’ service. “Free-to-air is the clear answer to jumpstart demand,” it says.
So broadcasters shouldn’t allow this rotten economy to discourage or slow their mobile ambitions.
There is a lot to do, of course. Broadcasters must equip their stations to air mobile signals, acquire (or confirm they have) the mobile rights to network programming, put in place a good system for measuring mobile viewership and convince cell phones manufacturers to install chips that can receive their mobile signals.
None of that is going to be easy. I’ve got a hunch the negotiations with the networks are going to be tough. The networks are not going to give anything away.
But broadcasters can proceed with confidence.
In the coming mobile TV marketplace, the broadcast offering will be free — and there is always a place for free.
Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. You can contact him at [email protected].