Mobile TV Is Dicey in Europe, Too


Figuring out how to get wireless subscribers to watch and pay for over-the-air television on their mobiles is a problem in the U.S., and apparently it isn’t doing well in Europe either. But instead of asking if people actually want to watch broadcast TV on their mobiles (or would rather just stream it from the web), Europeans are questioning whether they chose the correct technical standard.

Today Italian wireless provider 3 Italia has said it is expanding its three-year-old mobile television offering with more equipment from Alcatel-Lucent that uses the DVB-H technical standard for mobile broadcast. This only caught my eye because an EETimes article earlier this week pointed out that failed DVB-H launches in Germany could throw the entire DVB-H standard into doubt on the continent:

“France will be the final litmus test for DVB-H,” predicted Alon Ironi, CEO & president at Siano Mobile. “If it doesn’t make it big time there, I am not sure of DVB-H’s future.” Siano (Netanya, Israel) is a supplier of multimode mobile TVchips that include DVB-H, DVB-T and China’s CMMB.

I suppose 3 Italia’s 8 million mostly youthful entertainment driven subscribers aren’t enough to prove DVB-H works. Here in the U.S. the de facto standard is Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology, which AT&T and Verizon are using.  When AT&T chose MediaFLO in early 2007, that was the nail in the coffin for DVB-H in the U.S. and prompted the U.S. DVB-H provider to shut down. But given that mobile TV still isn’t bringing in a large audience in Europe or the U.S., questioning the technical standard might not solve the problem. Perhaps carriers should ask themselves if people want mobile TV at all.


Jose Miguel Cansado

I agree with Adrian McDermott’s comment above.

Mobile TV is in its infancy. As with regular TV, people first resisted to pay for content, and ads-based business model succeeded to make TV a mass market in the 50s and 60s.

Same for Mobile TV. Free-to-air is the clear first step to educate users. People (in masses) are not going to pay for watching TV for now. Read the story:

The difference is that it will not take 50 years to have people paying for premium content in their handsets, as it took for people to pay for cable TV/IPTV pay channels.


There are a lot of issues that working against MobileTV in its current form.

– Is there a real need for broadcast-type functionality on small handsets. People watched a lot of Olympics on handsets but it is not on DBB-H or MediaFlo handsets. They watched short-form videos and clips (Phelps last-second thriller) on 3G handsets.
– Handsets? Handsets will always be an issue. Remember, finally it is the handset availability that matters and technology has to be seen through this prism.
– While it is true that MobileTV has a lot of subscribers in Japan and Korea, the service is being given away for free.

MobileTV on broadcasts will always be a niche product – mobile video downloads (short-form clips/video) will be the big driver for handsets and that will be on 3G/4G networks.


Adrian McDermott

Hi Stacey,

Lots of commentators made their mind up that Mobile TV wasn’t going to work some time ago, so evidence to the contrary is now being ignored. But in fact now Mobile TV is to be taking off in lots of countries. Your blog was in response to news of a TV company announcing a big expansion of DVB-H services, so perhaps rather than using it to question DVB-H’s validity and that of Mobile TV as a whole, it’s a good opportunity to present a bit of balance. This year’s Olympics got watched by millions a day on Mobile TV (link) even at this early stage of rollout, Juniper networks is predicting revenue of more than $6.6 billion by 2012 (link), and even by the end of 2008 the number of users is predicted to rise to 51.6 illion from 26.3 million in 2007 (link).

The German story is now a bit old news and a one-off story, not really useful for general forecasting: In Germany the government killed the potential value chain by giving the license to a no-name company with no relationships with operators. Not surprisingly, operators joined forces supporting DVB-T to kill that competitor, no matter that DVB-T won’t make money for anyone. This may be a case of cutting off their nose to spite their face by the operators because they probably killed off mobile TV in all forms there, too, at least for the near future.

But that’s one market, and many new ones are just emerging. Italy is an important market, so are China, Netherlands (link), Hungary (link), India, Brazil… and the list goes on.

It is certain that Mobile TV watching will be done in different ways and circumstances than sitting on a sofa looking at a BIG TV screen. In particular it seems likely that markets where relatively prosperous people regularly take public transport will be more suitable for mobile TV uptake than others with US-like car driving cultures I would think. It’s important not to judge the world by what happens in the US!

It is still early days for Mobile TV in all its forms and DVB-H in particular but DVB-H networks are being rolled out and the gadget makers in Finland, Japan, Korea and elsewhere are still bringing the first products to market. So all in all, though Mobile TV is quite an old story, it’s just beginning to get traction in many countries. Now might at last be the time to talk of it as growing rather than dying.



Here, in Czech Republic, DVB-H is in fact doomed. It’s just matter of time it’s official. Cariers are reluctant since at least one handset on the market supports DVB-T standard beside a huge investment into infrastructure required for DVB-H deployment. Also, nobody’s sure if subscription-based model would work. A short-term goal for all three cariers is 3G development (T-Mobile opted to leap it completely in favor of LTE).


But, hey, Curtis, come one, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen “2001” on a 3-inch screen.

Seriously, you hit the nail on the head. I think an ordinary laptop screen is plenty small and portable enough.



Everyone forgets Sony failed in the 90’s with the Sony Watchman. People were not interested in watching TV on a tiny screen then, I doubt that people (en masse) will watch now. I think it is a niche market at best and receives way too much media attention. Most mobile TV services have been, currently are, and will remain dogs.

That was probably a bit harsh, but in a media interview I did back in the mid 90’s while I worked for a large and then dominant gaming company, I predicted mobile TV wouldn’t go anywhere. Here we are in late 2008, and mobile TV hasn’t gone anywhere. I guess i’m simply tired of reading about it.



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