Mobile TV: If at first you don’t succeed…

mobiletvSince about 2006, the media, vendors and service providers have continued to preach that consumers want programming on-the-go but thus far the prospect of viewing local news, sports, entertainment and other content on a mobile device has not yet taken off in the U.S. market. Friday’s announcement by the Mobile Content Venture though is yet another attempt. As a joint venture of 12 broadcasters (including NBC, Fox, ION and Cox), the MCV is committing to at least two ad-supported free-to-consumer channels in 20 markets by the end of 2011. Their hope is to deliver mobile video service in markets representing more than 40% of the US population.

Qualcomm’s FloTV or Fox-backed Bitbop are a couple of the casualties that prove people just don’t want to pay surcharges or subsctiption fees to get content they can get at home.

The fundamental problem right now is that people don’t want to pay surcharges or separate subscriptions to watch TV on their phones. Hulu Plus, Bitbop and others aren’t yet offering content compelling enough to lure people to the idea of paying for TV and movies they can get at home. If content is not unique or compelling in some way, people will just wait to get home to consume (that’s why so many people rank their DVRs as their most loyal companions). Until then, free content seems the way to go, and once (if) people get hooked, offer upgrades or promotions that compel people to try something new.

It seems thus far each player has a piece, but none are offering either a niche enough or comprehensive enough option that people are flocking to mobile TV.

I think it’s obvious that this young market needs to mature a bit more—and that once live news, sports and other programming is available, or once premium content not available on tethered devices like a TV or PC is made available, then perhaps there will be more uptake. Or even offering commercial-free viewing and other compelling incentives will come to be.

And oh yeah, let’s not forget the charging, billing and payments issues. As service providers figure out the content piece, they have to figure out just what people are willing to pay for and how? Whether prepay-, postpaid, PayPal, credit card or other options, just what will people be willing to pay and just how flexible will operators be to allow them to pay the way they want, over any platform, any device.

I have no doubt someone soon will get the content and business model figured out. In the meantime, don’t throw the DVR away.

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