Picture-in-picture: Mobile TV not to be ignored

What does the future hold for TV services? Visitors to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week are getting some glimpses. While the world's largest mobile industry tradeshow doesn't mean much to the telco TV and IPTV crowd at face value, it is putting on display an array of technologies, solutions and strategies that telco TV, cable TV and satellite TV providers will need to think about and address in the very near future (For specific news from the show, see our sibling publications FierceWireless and FierceMobileContent).

In recent days, there has also been plenty of writing on the wall about the future impact of mobile video and TV. ABI Research said there will be 500 million mobile TV viewers by 2013, a figure which includes potential viewers of in-vehicle entertainment systems. Cisco Systems conducted a Webcast last week illustrating the coming effect of mobile broadband on overall Internet traffic, saying at one point that mobile video will account for 64 percent of all mobile broadband traffic by 2013. Furthermore, a Nielsen survey commission by Tellabs proposed that mobile video and other Internet traffic will prove recession-proof and will continue to grow in the months and years to come.

It is true that mobile video viewership remains sporadic for now, and there are still multiple platforms and business model schemes to be sorted out, but from MWC this week and in coming weeks, you can bet the picture will start to become less fuzzy.

The world's wireless giants, of course, stand to benefit the most from this evolution. Among them and in addition to them, massive wireline and wireless telcos like Verizon Communications and AT&T are the leading examples of firms well equipped to handle the mobile video and TV evolution, as well as the other directions in which video is moving. AT&T, for instance, offers IPTV; satellite TV; mobile broadcast TV through MediaFLO; 3G mobile TV through MobiTV; other mobile video download applications through 3G; online video and TV via Internet access; and even demonstrated a new in-vehicle satellite TV offering, Cruisecast, at CES 2009 last month. That's a formidable array of offerings that covers virtually every direction in which the TV services trend could possibly evolve in the next few years. Making sense of all these various directions, and trying to integrate and package them in various ways, will be another matter entirely.

And what of the service providers that don't have a mobile platform, such as cable TV providers and some ISPs and rural telcos? What of the satellite TV carriers who have gained from telco partnerships, but could be most threatened by the ability of mobile broadband to become an in-vehicle medium? At some point, all TV service providers will have to rectify their strategies and their visions of the future with mobile video in mind. Many landline telcos a few years ago were not ready to believe that mobile substitution could wreak havoc within their oldest line of business, but it did, and telcos' strategies for business diversification only recently began to adequately off-set that trend. Those now watching the evolution of mobile video from afar would do well not to linger too long in front of their living room TVs.

-Dan

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