MobiTV Says It Has 4M Subscribers — Is Growth Slowing?

The first time Paul Scanlan, co-founder of MobiTV, showed me his service at a friend’s barbeque in Sausalito, it was nothing but a herky-jerky video transmission of CNN on a Sprint handset. I had just moved back to San Francisco, and this was before the current investment cycle had started. To be honest, I didn’t give it much of a chance, and wondered who would want this service. Oops!

Five years later, the Emeryville, Calif-based company that got going in 1999 has grown tremendously. Today it announced that its mobile television service now reaches four million subscribers, though it is not clear how many pay for the service. MobiTV seems to defy the conventional wisdom about mobile video.

I decided to look at MobiTV’s subscriber growth over the years to measure the trajectory thus far. I also added the number of months it takes them to add another million users, and from that yardstick, it seems like the growth has started to slow down a little.

  • April 2006: 1 million subscribers
  • February 2007: 2 million subscribers (10 months)
  • October 2007: 3 million subscribers (8 months)
  • August 2008: 4 million subscribers (10 months)

The subscribers come from over 15 carriers including Sprint, AT&T Wireless, Alltel (soon to be owned by Verizon), Telus, Rogers and Bell Canada, among others. “The company continues to accelerate its growth trajectory, adding another million subscribers in the past 10 months,” said Charlie Nooney, chairman and CEO of MobiTV, in a press statement.

The company has raised a whopping $130 million in venture financing over the years, and has been an early evangelist for mobile video. At our NewTeeVee Live conference last year, Scanlan pointed out that its “…vision for the the future is really creating a seamless experience from home to PC to mobile phone. The mobile phone and PC are very complimentary to what you do at home. We believe that in the future, subscribers will have access to the content piped into their home onto their mobile handset.”

Let’s hope for his sake that’s really the case. Sure, the company has proven that people want TV on the tiny screen, but it stands to face competition from Qualcomm’s MediaFLO-based services. Verizon and AT&T, two of the largest mobile operators, are betting on FLO and rebranding them for their own purposes. Which brings to me the next question: What happens to MobiTV’s growth if the two major carriers start pushing FLO-based services to their customers?

Scalnan once said that the “TV in your living room vs. TV on your PC will all kind of blend together, that’s why we’re looking at the whole space instead of silos.” Maybe that’s his strategy for staying in the game. We shall see, for if there’s one thing I have learned it’s never to count this guy out.

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