With his post today, my colleague Eric Zeman raised a great question: Is anyone actually watching mobile TV? If by that he meant people watching video on their iPods, yes, I see many iPod users watching video. If, however, he meant people watching V CAST and other mobile TV services that stream over cellular networks...I don't know. The carriers have never given us any hard data on adoption or usage of mobile TV services.
Verizon Wireless has offered some form of V CAST for the last two years. The services started off with small clips of streaming video. This year the carrier upgraded the service using MediaFLO-based technology. V CAST TV is now available in 37 markets. And you know what? I have yet to actually see anyone in a real-world situation watch it.
Mind you, this is purely anecdotal, but until Verizon Wireless and other carriers that offer mobile TV services, like Sprint step up and give us some numbers, it's all I have to go on. I live in New York City. There are lots of people here. Many of the people in New York are power-users of mobile technology. I see lots of people browsing the Web, texting, using e-mail, playing games, etc. on their cell phones. Heck this is one of the few U.S. markets where the iPhone seems totally passe just two months in. Yet, given all this, I haven't see anyone outside of a wireless trade show or a press briefing actually use mobile TV. I see people watch video on their iPods all the time. But still, no V CAST, no mobiTV, no mobile TV.
I take that back. I did see someone try to watch some kind of mobile streaming video a few weeks back while riding on the LIRR. The person in question kept slapping their handset and muttering swear words at it. This user experience looked far from optimal.
A few months ago I attended a Mobile Monday dedicated to just this topic. Despite the fact that most of the presentations had little to do with mobile TV, I took away a few things. First, mobile streaming video is still far from optimal. Even with solutions that improve quality, the quality itself is... kind of bad.
The second was that the services themselves are, from a strict usability perspective, pretty good. While that may seem like a positive sign for the future of mobile video, it's not. In fact, it's a really bad sign, because if the issue isn't strict usability -- i.e. this is a cool service but it's just not laid out well or poorly packaged -- then it's likely the quality of product itself, i.e. the video is hard to watch, that's the real roadblock to adoption.
Let's face it, mobile TV combines the worst aspects of mobility -- small screen sizes, lower bandwidth, and large amounts of latency in data connections -- with the worst aspects of streaming video, i.e. poor video quality. That's not a winning combination.
Now this doesn't mean that I think that mobile TV is dead. I think the YouTube application on the iPhone could point the way to a better mobile video experience. But this app is a far cry from the model that Verizon and Sprint have been pushing in the U.S., or the model that some carriers and broadcasters like the BBC have tried in Europe.
Mobile TV has been around now for almost three years now and it still far from ready for primetime. Am I being to mean to mobile TV? What do you think?