Studies show appetite for mobile phone TV

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The British public would broadly welcome broadcasting television on 3G mobile phones, two new studies show, although consumers may not pay as much as operators would like for the service.

On Tuesday O2, the UK mobile phone operator, claimed that preliminary findings from a trial it was conducting among a cross-section of its users in Oxford showed that they were overwhelmingly favourable towards the service and would consider taking it up.

However, a six-month trial carried out by BT and Virgin Mobile among 1,000 users in Greater London revealed at the weekend that users preferred to use their phones to listen to digital radio rather than watch TV, and were only willing to pay £8 a month for broadcasts rather than the £10 that operators are hoping for.

The O2 trial, carried out in partnership with broadcast technology company Arqiva, broadcast 24-hour live access to 16 TV channels to 375 O2 users representing “a wide range of demographics” in the 18-44 age band. According to the company, 83 per cent of the triallists were “satisfied” with the service while 76 per cent indicated they would take up the service within 12 months.

Since the beginning of the trial at the end of September, the triallists viewed TV on specially adapted Nokia 7710 smartphones for an average of three hours a week, with some watching as much as five hours, with demand high in the mornings, lunchtimes and early evenings.

“This trial is further illustration that we are moving from a verbal only to a verbal and visual world in mobile communications...Broadcast TV for mobile can be a powerful new service that further enables users to personalise their mobile handset so that they can always have the content they want,” said David Williams, O2’s technology chief.

In the BT/Virgin Mobile trial, 59 per cent of triallists rated mobile TV as appealing or very appealing, but 65 per cent said the same about digital radio. Users watched an average of 66 minutes of TV a week and listened to 95 minutes of radio. Digital radio was also popular among the O2 triallists with 7 out of 10 saying they would like to have digital radio channels included in a commercial service.

The higher figures for the O2 trial could be explained by the greater variety of content available. It included a selection of channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five as well as programming from Sky, MTV and other content providers. The BT trial offered three channels a week from a selection of Sky News, Sky Sports News, E4, ITV2 and the Blaze music channel.

“The strong channel line-up on offer... has proven to be a key factor in the high satisfaction levels,” said O2.

The BT trial found that news clips and favourite shows were the most popular while specially-prepared edited highlights of shows did not appeal to viewers as much.

Mobile telephone operators are trying to squeeze more money out of their customers by offering a host of extra services using third generation networks that have so far failed to generate enough custom to recoup the many billions invested in them. As well as TV, video and music downloads and streaming, interactive games and radio are also available.

Operators are also facing competition from rivals such as satellite TV group Sky which are also moving into mobile phone services as they seek to become triple play companies offering TV, phone and broadband services in one package. Sky recently announced a new video on demand service on mobile phones alongside a new web-based library of downloadable films.

Mobile TV is already on Vodafone, 3 and Orange on their 3G networks which charge £10 for the service.

TV also uses up space and could reduce the efficiency of phone networks if it takes off.

To bypass this problem, the latest trials are using a different technology which uses a broadcast signal - like traditional TV - rather than a mobile phone network - meaning that the service will work even in areas without mobile phone coverage.

BT’s Movio service, which it hopes will broadcast content for use by mobile operators such as Virgin, uses internet technology and part of the digital radio spectrum owned by GCap’s Digital One radio unit. The first handset, made by Taiwan’s HTC, enabled with the technology - known as DAB-IP - will be available to buy soon.

Meanwhile, the O2 service is based on a Nokia-backed standard called DVB-H which uses radio spectrum that will not be available in the UK until the analogue signal is switched off in 2012.

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