Surprise demand for mobile TV

Despite bleak predictions from analysts regarding the potential success of mobile TV in SA, research indicates its popularity has boomed in recent months.

However, while demand is on the rise, the technology required to access mobile TV remains out of reach of the consumer.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck notes that the newfound interest in mobile TV offerings was a big surprise in the research firm's 2011 Mobile Consumer Study, as this year's findings have bucked the trend.

“In the Mobile Consumer in SA 2011 report, we found that massive appetite for mobile TV had emerged subsequent to the licensing, whereas there had been none for the past four years,” explains Goldstuck.

“The industry has an opportunity to regain the lost momentum that was almost achieved in 2006, when mobile TV was first announced by MTN to coincide with the Fifa World Cup, in Germany. At the time, 12% of the market was saying they would try it. A year later, when neither TV-capable phones nor licences had arrived, this dropped to 1%,” he explains.

Growing interest

However, towards the end of last year, after much controversy, the communications regulator awarded the first mobile TV licences to two successful applicants: MultiChoice and etv.

Shortly after receiving their licences, MultiChoice and etv came to market with DStv Mobile - a joint offering. MultiChoice declined to provide subscribership figures, but noted that uptake was encouraging.

The licences afforded the two applicants access to the spectrum required to broadcast mobile TV over the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld) broadcasting format.

With the licences, the broadcasters were able to offer true mobile TV, not to be confused with mobile TV services available in the market, which run on 3G network technology.

At the time, analysts pointed out that the high cost and poor quality of the 3G alternative had set a negative precedent for the future of mobile TV. Moreover, analysts pointed out that mobile TV had not really taken off elsewhere in the world and predicted limited success for the local offerings.

But Goldstuck comments that, six months later, research indicates otherwise.

“Now, with licences issued and marketing campaigns intensifying, our Mobile Consumer in SA 2011 study shows that more than one in 10 respondents are keen to take up mobile TV now, compared with just one in 100 over the past few years,” he states.

“This reinforces a rule we discovered some years ago with WiMax: if there is a technology that is ready, but not available, and its availability is continually delayed, interest dries up. But once the technology becomes available, if it hasn't been superseded, enthusiasm leaps,” explains Goldstuck.

But while enthusiasm might be peaking for mobile TV, DVB-H-enabled devices remain limited.

Lacking tech

Users can only access DStv Mobile through cellphones that are enabled for the DVB-H broadcasting format, or through a mobile decoder for WiFi-enabled devices, called the Drifta. However, a Drifta unit will set consumers back R599.

“Viewing TV broadcasts via DVB-H handsets will still be limited by the small number of capable handsets in the market,” argues Goldstuck.

The DVB-H-enabled cellphones available in SA are limited to the Nokia 5330, Nokia N96 and ZTE F900.

DStv says it will extend access from Nokia, Samsung, ZTE, iPhone, iPad, and iPod devices and PCs, to BlackBerry, Android, and series 60 Nokia handsets and Mac computers this year.

The broadcaster concedes that the challenge is to get more lower-end DVB-H-enabled cellphones in the market so that broadcast mobile TV can be more accessible.

Coverage is also limited and currently only available in certain areas: the major centres of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Mbombela, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Durban.

With so many issues facing strong uptake, Goldstuck maintains that, while early adopters will enjoy the service, no one will use it as a replacement for TV.

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