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Summary:

Fox Mobile is hoping to find an audience with Bitbop, a $10-a-month video service for users with iPhones and other smartphones. While the News Corp. subsidiary brings some impressive competitive advantages to the table, the demand for premium mobile video is still far from certain.

Fox Mobile is hoping it can convince consumers to shell out to watch TV on their smartphones. The News Corp. subsidiary this morning unveiled Bitbop, a subscription service for smartphone owners that will deliver both streaming and downloadable movies and TV programs to smartphone users.

The app will be free to download when it launches on an unspecified date in the next several weeks, but the app itself will only offer sneak previews — full content will cost $10 monthly over 3G and Wi-Fi connections. Bitbop will work on devices such as the iPhone, Droid and several BlackBerry models at launch with more handsets on the way. Fox, NBC Universal and Discovery will provide content, along with other yet-to-be-announced partners, and some movies will incur a yet-to-be-determined charge beyond the monthly subscription fee.

Whether Fox can finally entice users to pay for on-the-go video is far from clear, though.  Qualcomm appears to be repositioning MediaFLO -– the most highly publicized mobile TV effort thus far -– as a content delivery network after the TV business failed to draw large numbers of paying viewers. Overall, only 115 million mobile TV subscribers exist worldwide, according to recent figures from Screen Digest.

And Bitbop faces some unique challenges even for a mobile TV business. The company is hoping to secure carrier-billing relationships but will support only credit card payments at launch, requiring users to walk through the tedious process of establishing accounts either on their phones or a parallel web site. Bitbop may have difficulty hammering out business deals with carriers — particularly AT&T — which struggle to handle data-intense traffic such as mobile video. Plus, at least one major network (CBS) already offers full-length content free via an iPhone app. There’s also questionable demand for full-length TV shows and movies on mobile devices, which is the effort’s primary value proposition.

Bitbop can leverage some interesting advantages, however. Content is modified for each device, Fox Mobile Group EVP Joe Bilman told me, and Fox hits such as “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” may be especially attractive to users interested in mobile entertainment. And I’ve long argued that a lack of on-demand and downloadable content has been a major hurdle for mobile video, which has largely consisted of streaming programming, which can falter on dodgy mobile connections.

More importantly, Fox is likely to back Bitbop with some serious marketing muscle, using its substantial TV presence to promote the effort to users who may not even be aware mobile TV exists.  (It’s unclear, however, why Fox isn’t bringing some version of the News Corp. co-owned Hulu service and brand to mobiles instead of its own, mobile-specific play.) But even brand awareness and Fox marketing may not be enough to move the needle in mobile video. However, if Bitbop is successful there will be no shortage of others looking to duplicate its traction in a very difficult space.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Making Movies Mobile

Qualcomm’s Big Push for Mobile TV

Image courtesy Flickr user masochismtango.

By Colin Gibbs

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  1. thats cool news ;)

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  2. [...] GigaOm] Technorati Tags: Fox,Bitbop,video,subscription [...]

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  3. [...] The app will be free to download when it launches on an unspecified date in the next several weeks, but the app itself will only offer sneak previews — full content will cost $10 monthly over 3G and Wi-Fi connections. Bitbop will work on devices such as the iPhone, Droid and several BlackBerry models at launch with more handsets on the way. Fox, NBC Universal and Discovery will provide content, along with other yet-to-be-announced partners, and some movies will incur a yet-to-be-determined charge beyond the monthly subscription fee. Read more on GigaOM. [...]

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  4. [...] Gibbs / GigaOM: Fox Mobile Offers Hulu-like Subscription Service for Smartphones  —  Fox Mobile is hoping it can convince consumers to shell out to watch TV on [...]

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  5. “Bitbop may have difficulty hammering out business deals with carriers – particularly AT&T – which struggle to handle data-intense traffic such as mobile video.”

    There’s a lot of question marks here especially in light of carrier caps. Obviously the carriers would have to give Bitbop the same exception to their caps that they are currently giving to themselves. Questions about net neutrality are bound to arise from those services that aren’t granted the exception.

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  6. [...] GigaOm reports that Bitbop will arrive in the “next several weeks,” while a press release from Fox Mobile Group (a subsidiary of News Corp., a one-third stakeholder in Hulu) says that the upcoming app will work on “most advanced technology handsets.” That’s a little vague, but the pull-down menu on the official Bitbop site offers some clues, listing handsets such as the BlackBerry Bold and Curve, the iPhone, and the Android-powered Motorola Droid, the HTC Droid Eris, the T-Mobile MyTouch, and the Samsung Moment. [...]

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  7. [...] techcrunch.com gigaom.com inventorspot.com fastcompany.com blackweb20.com mediabuyerplanner.com [...]

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  8. [...] How Discovery Makes Mobile Apps Pay By Liz Gannes Mar. 24, 2010, 5:52pm PDT No Comments          0 Discovery Communications may not distribute much of its full-length premium content freely on the web, but the company — which owns TLC, Animal Planet and of course the Discovery Channel — has experimented quite liberally when it comes to mobile. That includes its own mobile applications, both ad-supported and paid, as well as participation in paid streaming services like the new one from Fox, Bitbop. [...]

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  9. [...] itself as a content delivery network, having failed to draw enough paying viewers, writes GigaOm. only about 115 million mobile TV subscribers [...]

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