Mobile TV is real

At the TPRC policy research conference last weekend, I listened to a presentation about digital mobile broadcast (DMB) service in South Korea. DMB means television on your mobile phone. It’s up and running today in Korea, with plans to expand the system to include local as well as national channels. The audience was skeptical. One questioner wondered aloud whether any customers would actually pay for such a thing.

Well, guess what? Mobile TV is going to be big. In fact, it’s already happening here in the US. A company called MobiTV is sending TV programming to mobile phones over cellular data networks. This isn’t nearly as good as the full-scale mobile broadcasting they have in Korea, and it’s only available on a few phones from a few carriers. Nonetheless, customers seem to be responding. There are already 500,000 subscribers to MobiTV’s service here in the US.

Let’s see now. 500,000 subscribers at $10/month means a $60 million annual revenue run-rate. That’s not chump change. And it’s nothing compared to the numbers we’ll see once real digital mobile broadcasting hits these shores. Qualcomm is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the infrastructure for mobile TV, and other companis are as well.

While the telcos’ IPTV platforms get all the attention from regulators and the business press, I suspect true alternatives to conventional television like digital mobile broadcasting and the Internet-based platforms that companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Brightcove are building will have more of an impact sooner on transforming the TV industry.