Speaking candidly during an interview, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs estimated that during its 3.5-year run, only about one million people signed up for FLO TV.
The basic concept behind FLO TV is cool: Use a separate network to deliver high-quality, live mobile television to phones. The reality, however, didn't work out as planned or hoped.
Qualcomm launched FLO TV way back in March of 2007 with just one handset available from Verizon Wireless in a very small number of markets. Over time, FLO TV became available on more handsets and in more markets, but the service never really caught on. Carriers stopped bringing FLO-enabled devices to market some time ago.
FLO also offered stand-alone mobile TV products, and pitched them to families looking to entertain kids while in the car. The devices themselves weren't bad, but the service always required an additional monthly fee.
Qualcomm and its partners have been shy about sharing FLO numbers until Jacobs appeared at an event Tuesday evening with former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein. When asked how many customers used its FLO services, Jacobs said about a million. When you consider the billions of dollars that Qualcomm paid for the spectrum, the towers, the network, and the content deals, it's no surprise that Qualcomm is calling it quits and looking to sell. (Jacobs told The Wall Street Journal that he expects to strike a deal regarding FLO in the next quarter or so.)
Jacobs said the company learned some key things during FLO's run. Chief among them is that people were more interested in events (concerts, sporting matches, etc.) and time shifting than they were in live TV. "Nobody turned on their phone at 4:30 to watch show X for half an hour," Jacobs said. "That was a total non-starter."
Cost was also probably an issue. The basic access plan for FLO TV started at $10 per month. I'd argue that the emergence of smartphones such as the iPhone and Android -- which are adept at playing back video content -- also helped reduce the appeal of FLO TV.
Jacobs still believes that mobile TV will become the norm. "It's just a question of how it's going to happen," he said.
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