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Networks/Broadcasters Look at Mobile Television

At the Future of Television in Hollywood a few days ago, a high-level panel took a look at the opportunities and challenges facing the television industry. Moderated by Bill Sanders, president, Pervasive Media, panelists included Tim Connolly, vp, mobile distribution, Disney/ABC/ESPN Media Networks; Kraig Baker, partner, David Wright Tremaine LLP; Jim Eadie, vp,

Bill Sanders moderates mobile TV panel

Bill Sanders moderates mobile TV panel

digital distribution, MTV Networks; John Lawson, evp, ION Media Networks;Steve Bradbury, vp, business affairs, GoTV Networks; and Jonathan Barzilay, svp, programming and advertising, MediaFLO USA.

Sanders started off by polling the audience on how many watched video on their mobile phone–streaming or downloading–or a weekly basis. As is typical for these casual polls, the answer was…almost no one. But Sanders wasn’t discouraged. “We need to move beyond it being a ‘gee whiz’ thing to where it’s a business,” he said. He asked every panelist to describe some development they’ve seen in the last year that has changed the game…or will change the game in the next 6 to 12 months.

Steve Bradbury, GoTV: I think when you go beyond the iPhone and start talking about the Android that’s come out of the box strong and will have a proliferation, that’s interesting. LG will do a store, Blackberry and Palm will have a store. The whole idea of carriers no longer being that central focus [is a game changer]. Handset mfrs trying to take back control of content is a coming trend.

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Broadcasters Race Towards Mobile TV

MobilizedTV spoke with Anne Schelle, Executive Director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition about the work the coalition is doing to enable its 800 broadcast TV members to go mobile.

What’s new since NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) in April?

AS: Since NAB, we filed our trial results with the FCC. We tested three systems: LG/Harris’ MPH system, Samsung/Roeder/Schwarz’s AVS-B; and Thomson’s Micronis’ system. We announced that the baseline system we recommended was MPH but that we felt that there were aspects of AVS-B we felt would be beneficial to the standard. Then LG and Samsung announced a partnership on the two standards the day before we filed. How the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Commitee) process works is, once the documentation is written for a standard, there’s a candidate phase where manufacturers build chips to the standard to make sure the standard works. On Sept. 25, ATSC considered the documentation to move it forward to a candidate draft standard.

Once approved to a candidate standard, it’s a four-to-six week validating process. You will see an announcement that a candidate standard has been adopted. At that point, it goes through a testing phase. We proposed that we’d assist with the funding and implementation of the testing. What happens during the testing phase is you set up model systems and enable streams to go out. Device manufacturers can pull them down and test them. We’ll also do interoperability testing to make sure all the layers work together.

When will we see real devices?

AS: The proposed date for the standard to be approved is end of May. Modifications and improvements may be made to documentation. LG and Samsung will have real devices at CES and NAB. Harris has already announced they’ll be able to have product by end of October. This is moving very rapidly. The other thing that’s interesting and different about this standard is that it’s allowing for versioning. So this is Version 1.0 with base features and capabilities. Then you’ll see a future versions come out that enable additional features. That means broadcasters will be able to react to consumers’ feedback and the ever-changing landscape of technology. The standard is very flexible so it’ll enable multiple business models.

Can you describe the beta tests?

AS: We’ll be doing consumer trials, which are a proxy for a consumer service where we can test out various device types and forms of programming. What’s great about the ATSC is that any video-enabled device can implement the technology: handsets, MP3 players, PC dongles. If you have a video-enabled phone, you do need to buy a new handset. But for a PC, you don’t. You could take your laptop with you, your dongle and plug it in and watch TV wherever you are.

How will this impact the mobile TV/video eco-system?

AS: I do see this as a big game changer. I was on an interesting panel called “Ask a Video Expert” with people from ESPN, NBC Universal, Ad Infuse and QuickPlay. The three points that were made by the panel were their frustration with having to go through the carriers today where they’re serving up content but the carrier systems are legacy so they have no clue who is being sold what. They get no reports back. Carriers aren’t really pushing entertainment. It’s all about ARPU for them. Their data plans were dismal five years ago, and they’ve turned down interoperability for texting five times. On the content side, similarly, the carrier decks have poor user interfaces. Sometimes you have to go six pages deep for discoverability. It’s very poor search because they block Google .

The user experience, in a nutshell, is poor and it’s not unified. Nothing is unified in fact. The content distributors have to deal differently with each carrier and sometimes they deal with different silos. It’s very complicated and from an end user’s perspective, it’s not the same experience to purchase a music video on AT&T as it is on Verizon. We just did a big literature review in US and Europe and found that users want what they get at home: ease of access, ease of use, commonality, the number of channels and experience they have at home, and none of that is being offered on the carrier’s deck.

Do broadcasters have any advantage in this environment?

We’ve got content, local and national. We have the ability to put together a fairly large national network that could offer up a unified experience, and in terms of awareness, who better to advertise for mobile TV but the broadcasters themselves? Their ability to self-advertise is tremendous. They can have TV talk shows about it, news shows about it, they can run spot ads. They can promote the heck out of it.

The alternative to the carrier solution is needed. At the same time, we see the carriers as partners. The user is going to be side-loading, purchasing clips and other types of content as they are today on the computer.It’s a multi-pronged experience. What’s missing-what drives all video-is live local television. TV built IPTV and the cable system. And live local content in terms of sports, news and scandals are some of the most watched programming out there. Those are all the benefits.

Many skeptics believe mobile TV won’t take off for a long time. What’s your response?

Free over-the-air broadcast will drive premium video service uptake. It’s early days if you think about it. The market is very early so there is a lot of opportunity and mobile TV really has a strong growth opportunity. The fact that it can be on almost any device that’s video enabled is really intriguing.

Take a look at the timeline of the standard. In 2009 you’ll see broadcasters building up. By Christmas 2010, manufacturers will come out with a lot of devices. My belief is that it’ll really take off in 2010 to 2011.

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Cablecasters Plan Mobile Strategies

Can cable go mobile? The short answer is…they already have. Discovery Networks, HBO, and MTV are a few of the networks that have already made bold forays into mobile programming.

But these are early days, and cable ops and cable networks alike are seeking ways to add on a mobile strategy without a major misstep. On the programming side, that means figuring out whether to repurpose existing material and/or produce original programming, each choice creating its own pitfalls.

At Discovery Network, they’ve created three strategies for moving content to the small screen. The third possibility, explained EVP/GM of emerging networks Clint Stinchcomb at the NCTA Mobile Bootcamp, is pre-purposing. “We identify short-form elements we want from the crew that’s shooting the cable TV show,” he said. “This is a “pre-source” way to source mobile content, and our current methodology for “Deadliest Catch,” one of the network’s most popular shows.”

For cable networks, the ability to repurpose content and/or use the mobile platform as an extension of brand has proven irresistible. MTV, for example, has used the mobile platform to extend the reach of reality series including “Laguna Beach,” “Real World: Denver” and “Run’s House” [See Q&A with Bunim Murray’s Mark Radounis].

Cable operators have a much tougher job ahead of them, having to figure out the “how-to” of creating a new distribution pipeline. Even more germane, perhaps, is figuring out how to monetize mobile. Mobile advertising is still evolving, and the business model of mix of models, whether it’s the 3-second spot, billboards, sponsorships or interactive triggers, remains to be seen.

“The magic of the mobile device is that it’s the absolute ultimate in convenience,” said Stinchcomb, who also spoke about repurposing existing content and made-for-mobile productions. “The options are limitless.”

Content creators and distributors stressed that these are early days for video over mobile, but that opportunities are intriguing. “We believe in the future of mobile video, but we’re still playing,” said Bernard Gershon, SVP/GM, ABC News Digital Media Group.

The how-to of mobile was also well represented. Dan Novak, VP, programming and advertising, for MediFLO USA, an end-to-end solution to deliver linear live TV to the phone, spoke about how after launching in March with Verizon Wireless their service is available in 28 markets, delivering NBC, CBS, ESPN, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Fox. “We’ll be able to do a lot of interactive things that cable is working towards,” promised Novak, pinpointing one of the areas of overlap between cable and mobile platforms.

Novak later reported that people who have video-enabled cell phones are watching for an average of 30 minutes a day. “When you put the right content out there, it becomes embedded in their lives,” he said. “We don’t think of this as a niche opportunity—it is a huge opportunity.”

New platforms not only bring up questions of aesthetics but also of rights and other legal issues. Two attorneys were on hand to bring up the issues that producers need to look at before they roll camera. That included who owns pre-existing content, rights clearances and Guild contracts. “I’m the guy that, an hour before Steve Jobs and Bob Iger shake hands, I have to make it work,” said Michael Pusateri, SVP of technology at Disney-ABC Television Group. “You can’t just buy software. You’re launching a new business, with legal rights, FCC issues, security concerns and technology issues.”

Advertising is part of the puzzle that has not yet been resolved: what kind of ad models will work, or not work, for the mobile platform? “Mobile advertising is still a fragmented ecosystem,” said Nagraj Kashyap, director of North American operations for Qualcomm Ventures. “And wireless carriers are moving slowly to formalize an advertising strategy.”

An interesting end to Mobile Bootcamp came when moderator Scott Wills, who is president/COO of HiWire, debunked four myths about what consumers want from mobile TV. In these early days, it may be just as possible to come up with metrics that prove the opposite, but his myth-busters are interesting fodder for continuing conversation.

Myth #1: Mobile TV will be watched by people standing in line.
Reality: Two-thirds watch it in the home or office

Myth #2: Low data and frame rates are acceptable, but consumers won’t like the small screen.
Reality: Three-quarter of subscribers to video-enabled phones complain and video quality and network performance. Only 6 percent don’t like the screen size.

Myth #3: Consumers only want short-form programming.
Reality: 86 percent want programming of 10 minutes or more.

Myth #4: Unicast networks can meet consumer demands.
Reality: It is not an on-going profitable scaling business. Cable will need to power many devices and provide services on existing devices.

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