Kirk Evans Blog

.NET From a Markup Perspective

AT&T to Offer Mobile Television – Are Commuters the Only Ones Who Will Care?

NEW YORK – AT&T Inc. said on Thursday it would launch mobile television services in May from MediaFlo USA, a unit of Qualcomm Inc., in an effort to bolster revenue from services other than phone calls.

AT&T, the biggest U.S. mobile service, said it would offer MediaFlo to users of the Vu phone from LG Electronics Inc. and the Access from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. and plans two exclusive channels it did not name.


I am surprised that I haven’t already seen a rash of posts from pundits saying things like, “AT&T to Offer Mobile Television, Just Not on the iPhone.”

This is something that I have been interested in ever since my wife got a phone with a free trial of Verizon Wireless VCast.  She tinkered with it, but then quickly said, “I’ll never use this.”  I asked her what she liked and didn’t like, and she said that she just couldn’t imagine a point in her day where she would have the free time to watch video on her phone, except maybe in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. 

Admittedly it is rare that I watch video on my Windows Mobile device except maybe while on an airplane. 

Jeff Jones blogs about Windows Media Center as the killer app for Zune.  He points out that you can pay $2 per show to watch TV on your iPod using iTunes, or you can use Windows Media Center with your Zune for free.  Very cool description of leveraging Vista and Zune together, and shows that Microsoft is thinking way beyond just creating an MP3 player.  Connect your XBox to your Windows Media Center and you can watch media in any room that has an XBox.  For this reason alone I have 2 XBox 360’s, as do several other people on my team, and I can connect the Zune to my XBox as well.

These examples point out something fairly obvious: watching TV is a distracting, isolated activity.  It’s not like listening to music where you can still drive your car.  Watching video requires that you focus all of your attention on the video.  Try watching a podcast, even in stop-and-go traffic, and see how many oh-crap moments you have where you nearly rear-end the driver in front of you.  It’s similar for using SMS or email on the device, it’s an immersive experience.  If you are watching video, you are not interacting with others. 

I’m trying to picture the people around me and what their lives are like and imagine a market for mobile video to be consumed on a daily basis, and I just can’t see it.  A friend sells pools… he’s either driving to appointments, at a customer’s home, or working at the office, none of which leaves time to stare at a device.  Another friend sells medical equipment… same story, he’s either driving or selling, no TV in his day.  Another friend is a pilot.. Lord, I hope he’s not staring at a TV show at work.  My neighbor is a programmer and drives to work each day, doesn’t watch video on the device.  Another friend owns an apartment locating business… no time for TV in his day except maybe ESPN at night.  Another friend works at a huge retailer, no time for TV in his day except maybe on lunch break, and there’s a TV in the breakroom.

Now go through your regular activities… you watch TV at home, maybe catching CNN or ESPN before you leave for work.  If you work at home, you aren’t going to watch video on your device, you’d watch it with a much larger experience.  If you are shopping at Wal Mart, you aren’t staring at your device, you’re pushing a cart and watching not to run into the person behind you.  If you are at a restaurant with a long wait, you are probably conversing with others that you will be eating with instead of face down watching TV.  Even if you are standing in a long line at Disney World, you are probably talking to your family and not isolating yourself with a video.

It seems to me that the potential consumption of video on the device is constrained to times when people are free of other activities.  On a daily basis, that seems to include commuting to work and lunch break.  And that is further reduced by the availability of other distractions, such as TVs already in the breakroom.  Not to mention that, if you commute and use a laptop, you are probably just as likely to toss in a DVD from Netflix as you are to spend the time downloading and sync’ing your device.

A further limiting factor is the availbility of a wireless signal.  The coverage area for AT&T’s network is good (although I still have better success and less dropped calls using Verizon Wireless in both Georgia and Texas), but there are plenty of scenarios where it’s not feasible: inside a large concrete building, up high in an office tower, sitting on an airplane in mid-flight.  One of the things I focused on here is that the large number of people sitting on an airplane at any given moment is a great opportunity to market this type of service to, but if you are going to watch video on an airplane, you can’t use the wireless signal to obtain the video stream.  That means you have to download the video, and you certainly don’t want to wait to download an entire TV show to your phone over the air… we’re back to the Zune being the optimal approach here through sync with Media Center, but again you are more likely to just toss a DVD into your notebook computer.

I offer that a large reason for the lack of adoption of mobile media is that we simply don’t have a mass transit culture.  Sure, lots of people use mass transit (planes and trains), but that population is incredibly small compared to the number of people that drive their car to work each day.  I’m not talking about the heart of Manhattan, I am thinking of Gwinnett County in Georgia or Dallas, Texas, areas with a significant density coupled with a huge suburban geographic dispersement and a distinct lack of available mass transit opportunities.

Right before I get on an airplane, I typically load up my Zune with recent podcast videos.  It’s about the only time where I find the small form factor of the device lends itself to the cramped quarters.  Otherwise, I’d just open my laptop.

I’d love to hear your feedback.  Do you watch video on your device?  If so, how many minutes out of the day do you watch video on your device, and is this restricted to commuting?