Eye on CTIA: Mobile TV and Video (1 of 4)

CTIA2008Back in the swing now after an exciting week in Las Vegas, covering the 2008 CTIA Wireless conference. While the floor was full of interesting mobile plays all up and down the value chain–some viable, some not–I thought it would be insightful for readers to focus on what the experts were saying. Or, as it were sometimes, selling.

So this will be the first of four posts covering several of the informational panels I sat in on. Let’s start with mobile TV / video.

Actually, let’s start with some intriguing stats: According to the panelists–which included mobile execs from MTV Networks, Discovery Channel, MobiTV, MediaFLO, and NBC Universal–of those users who are subscribed to mobile data plans, only around 30 percent are actually viewing mobile video. This nets out to just about 6 percent of all mobile users, and roughly 15 percent of those with smartphones. So what’s stopping mobile video from popping?

According to Greg Clayman, EVP of Digital Distribution for MTV, nothing’s stopping it; in fact, it’s well on its way: Six months ago, says Clayman, only 3 percent of subscribers watched mobile video. And six months before that, only 1 percent was viewing. So when you consider that there are now 60 million videos being delivered via mobile, that’s not trivial growth.

The key, according to Clayman, has been the creation of original content for the mobile platform. It’s especially important from a development standpoint that the mobile team is included in all of the production meetings, so they can identify what will work on the phone vs. TV or Web.

Doug Craig, SVP of New Media over at Discovery Channel, seconds that idea. He’s focusing his efforts on original, short-form pieces that can be consumed quickly and easily. For delivery, Discovery is streaming 350 clips per month through MobiTV, and also has a video-on-demand program through Verizon’s V-CAST platform.

And MobiTV, for its part, currently boasts 3 million subscribers, and has inked deals with AT&T, Sprint, and Alltel Wireless. For them, says Ray DeRunzo, VP of Business Development, it’s less about delivering to a particular platform, and more about delivering personalized content to an individual.

I like this concept, though I’m still bearish on the near-term prospects mobile TV (mainly for reasons of cost). What this model does, though, is consider the mobile platform as a piece of the overall “digital consumption pie,” if you will. That view makes it all about the content–which, in the end, is what it IS all about.

Although Gina Lombardi, President of Qualcomm’s MediaFLO division, contends that the live broadcast is far from dead. People, for example, still want the Today Show in the morning; there’s a sense of feeling “connected” when we can take our favorite shows with us. And the proof is that MediaFLO is in 58 markets now, and claims an average of 30 minutes of viewing per day–including premium properties like Leno / Letterman, Stanley Cup playoffs, U.S. Open, NCAA championships, etc.

There’s also a direct relationship between TVs in the house and mobile TV usage: Basically, people who love to watch TV in the house also love to watch mobile TV. So the more sets you’ve got in the house, the more usage you’ll have in mobile. And this finding is consistent across gender, income, and so on. (Although Hipanics are over-indexing in mobile TV usage, as a good target niche for marketers).

Still, 65 percent of mobile TV usage is in two countries: yep, you guessed it, Japan and Korea. Now, there’s rapid development going on in certain parts of Western Europe and Nordic countries, along with Australia, India, and the Phillipines. Specifically, we’re seeing lots of user-generated content for mobile, coupled with interactive components. And to monetize it, brands and carriers are connecting the content with commerce–where there’s, say, a click-to-call message at the end of a video.

That’s not happening as much here in the States because of network and compatibility restrictions. In addition to limited 3G access, what’s slowing growth is that brands can’t do media buys across carriers–meaning they have to push one propery at a time (e.g., “Watch now on AT&T”). When we have a more open environment (*cough*…Google Android…*cough*) that supports cross-platform development, this will help to push costs down and allow more users to access mobile content.

Well…one step at the time. Stay tuned next week for how mobile can help you forge a direct link with your consumers. That sounds like a pretty good idea, no?