mobile TV

Streaming and broadcasting of multimedia content over mobiles devices

This research paper was part of the Diffusions of innovations class I took during spring 2005 from the New Media Communication Department at Oregon State University

This paper introduces the streaming and broadcasting of multimedia content, in particular TV programs, on mobile devices like mobile phones, smart phones and personal digital assistants. Before examining the different attributes of mobile TV as an innovation and discuss its diffusion, we need to look at the historical background and the origin of the innovation.

Technology Cluster

This technology, also called Mobile TV, is part of the mobile and multimedia entertainment technology cluster. This cluster includes among others the mobile phone itself, streaming technologies, digital media, the Internet and the television.
Indeed, the mobile phone evolved from a smaller and more transportable version of the landline telephone to a much more capable device. First designed to fulfill the same voice communication needs of the landline phone but untethered to a single location, the mobile phone now fulfills several more needs among its adopters. For example, the possibility to send short messages on the device was diverted from its original use as a network maintenance feature to become a whole new communication channel. Now, the medium is getting reinvented again as a personal camera and a multimedia player for videos and TV programs.

Origin of the Innovation

The origin of this reinvention is mostly to be found among research and development division of mobile phones manufacturers and mobile network operators. Multimedia content producers are also expressing interest since mobile TV can be seen as an additional major channel to distribute content and generate revenues. Indeed, the trend of the adoption of mobile phones has made mobile phones more valuable than the computer and the Internet. According to Endpocket, in the US alone, mobile phone users make 65% of the population while 63% of the population have home Internet connectivity (Endpocket 2005). But we can ask ourselves if streaming and broadcasting multimedia content over mobile phones is really an innovation.

Relative advantages

First, we can isolate the relative advantages of mobile TV. Mobile entertainment adopters can enjoy multimedia content with much less restrictions than they experienced in the past. In fact, adopters are less constrained on the location, time and context in which they can use mobile TV in comparison to what is generally referred to as home entertainment. The incentive to adopt is mostly individual since individuals make decisions on their consumption of mobile TV.

Compatibility

Mobile TV is also more compatible with mobile phone adopter’s lifestyle. Adopters of mobile phones are generally more inclined to have a higher number of interpersonal communication links and a higher social status than the general population is. Mobile phone users usually seek for more sources of communication, and therefore, they will see the opportunity to access multimedia content on their phones as compatible with their life. Thus, multimedia and mobile phone are two compatible technologies in terms of the cluster. However, until now, these two innovations could not easily cohabitate. The primary place of use of the mobile phone – outside of the house -, is somewhat different from the primary place of utilization of multimedia entertainment, the house. Mobile TV enables one to somehow close the gap between two otherwise incompatible activities. Associating mobile TV with both the television and the mobile phone – two highly popular innovations – also increases the chance that mobile TV will be itself adopted.

Complexity

In regard to complexity, Mobile TV is still in an early stage of development and it is difficult to predict how much complexity the final product will have. But if we compare the design of a mobile phone with the television + the remote control, we can observe a lot of similarities. The television is generally composed of a video display, an audio output system and a control system (the remote control). Similarly, a mobile phone is composed of a screen, an audio input/output system and a control panel (the touch tones). If these two systems can be mapped properly, the complexity of Mobile TV will be extremely low. People usually associate TV content providers with channel numbers and the same could probably be done on the mobile phone thanks to the touchtone dial.

Trialability

We can argue whether the technology can be tried beforehand or not. Indeed, different flavors of mobile TV technologies exist, each of them with different levels of trialability.
Services like MReplay (MReplay 2005) or MobiTV (MobiTV 2005), which we can consider as transitional mobile TV services, enable adopters to watch multimedia content on existing mobile phones over current mobile networks. The quality and the amount of content available with these services, while limited to adapt to the existing user base, can help lower the commitment level and provide a first experience to potential adopters. Another version of mobile TV, based on newer equipment, is less easy to try out without making any kind of commitment. Manufacturers and network operators have also associated to provide opportunities for potential adopters to try the new device more easily. Orange, a European mobile operator, offers limited time offers and discounts to persuade their clients to adopt the new service and the associated equipment (NewsWireless 2005).

Observability

Mobile TV is centered about the personal user experience. Also, the form factor and the existing usage of mobile phones are geared toward a personal and intimate use of the device. This makes mobile TV harder to be observed because of physical limitations imposed by the device size. The mobile phone also possesses highly personal attribution properties associated to its other uses (e.g., voice communication). However, the mobile phone is also highly visible since it enjoys a high market penetration rate (around 65% in the USA) and mobile phone adopters are usually carrying the phone everywhere with them. Thus, even if the use of the device cannot fully be observed because of its private attributes, it is easy to observe clues on whether or not mobile TV has been adopted. Indeed, a person staring at his/her mobile phone screen for more than a minute or so and listening to an audio output from the device is probably not engaged in a voice conversation or a short messaging session.

Definition of an adopter

We need to be careful in the definition of an adopter in regard to mobile TV. Indeed, we need to differentiate between different populations that have experiences with mobile TV, but may or may not be considered as adopters. For example, Informa Telecoms and Media predicts that “there will be 124.8 million broadcast mobile TV users worldwide by 2010” (McQueen 2005). Though, they don’t provide a clear definition of a mobile TV user. It is crucial to be able to distinguish between adopters, casual users and potential users. Change agents, especially mobile phone manufacturers, are extremely interested in the adoption of mobile TV. As the overall growth of the mobile phone market is expected to stall in the coming years (Forbes 2005), handset manufacturers see in mobile TV an opportunity to entice people into renewing their phone. According to Forbes, “the colour phone upgrade cycle is coming to an end, with customers now demanding a wider range of features in their handsets.” Mobile TV, along with camera phones, is therefore part of the mobile phone manufacturer strategy to create a new upgrade path. Based on this fact, manufacturers are including support for mobile TV in their latest devices, regardless of the adoption rate of mobile TV. In some ways, we can compare this strategy to the one adopted by the French government to diffuse interactive services based on the MINITEL (Rogers 2003). Therefore, we should distinguish between the persons having access to the technology and the people actually adopting it.

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