EMarketer forecasts that the number of U.S. consumers watching TV programming on cellular phones will rise to 15 million in 2009 from 1.2 million this year. But while the growth rate is significant, the actual number of small-screen TV watchers is small compared to the 240 million mobile phone users expected in the U.S. by 2009.
"If you do the math, it's actually less than 1 percent," EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. "It's not a huge market by any means."
Current data indicates that the majority of Americans believe the phone is best used for talk, and not for anything else.
In October, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers had used their phone's browser to get news and information, send a photo message or purchase a ring tone, EMarketer said. Fewer than 5 percent had bought wallpaper or a screen saver or downloaded a game.
Getting subscribers to pay to watch video is important to wireless carriers, which have invested billions of dollars in high-speed data networks capable of offering the service. Besides subscription fees, carriers could also make money selling advertising on the networks.
But before any of that can happen, carriers will have to reverse consumer attitude, and overcome significant technology and standards barriers, EMarketer said.