Do we really need live TV on our cell phones?

mobile tvElectronicsWeekly posted an article today on mobile TV, asking “What is needed to make it fly?” After a moment or two, my cynical side answered, “an audience” and “a compelling reason” to watch live television on a phone.

I took a quick inventory of myself and others I’ve watched using cell phones during various design research projects. When we’re mobile, we’re usually active, which isn’t necessarily good for watching live TV on a small device. And there are times when we’re mobile but stationary — like at the doctor’s office, waiting for a movie to start, sitting on a plane — and mobile television might come in handy then.

But when this happens, I usually pull out some content I’ve prepared myself or bought from the iTunes Music Store or Amazon’s Unbox. I’ve seen others do the same with their iPods with video, iPhones, or other portable entertainment devices.

old portable tvCome to think of it, the only times I’ve ever seen anyone watching live television on a portable device was one of those small TV sets from Sony or Casio, the ones with the tiny screens and an adjustable antenna, usually at sporting events.

We’ve moved beyond the mini-TV with an antenna and can now watch television on a cell phone (from Samsung, Nokia, and others) or mobile entertainment device through mobile “television” services from AT&T (CV), Verizon (V-Cast), or MobiTV, among others. But these shows are canned offerings and not live signals.

For this to happen, ElectronicsWeekly notes, issues regarding a maze of digital broadcast standards must be sorted out, allowing live TV signals to be received by a variety of handsets around the world. The chip manufacturers like Texas Instruments will have to improve their products, especially when it come to power consumption and handling signal interference. Some cell phone manufacturer will have to design a handset worth watching live TV on. And then there’s the issue of what the carriers will charge for the TV service.

tv on goEven if this happens, I still wonder about watching live TV on a cell phone. We live in time-shifted societies, where we record shows on TiVo and digital video recorders to watch later, at our convenience. We are beginning to download our favorite programs through iTunes, Unbox, or other services so we can watch them when we have the time.

So what does live mobile TV really offer us? We could keep up with news and breaking events such as Hurricane Katrina. We could watch the Cardinals and the Tigers in the World Series or the Colts and the Bears in the Super Bowl in real time.

But most of us can wait to watch “The Young and the Restless” if we’re at the doctor’s office, or “Heroes” or “Lost” if we’re busy Monday and Wednesday nights. There’s always TiVo, DVRs, video-on-demand, pay-per-view, Internet streaming, the ITMS, Unbox, Bit Torrent . . .

Credit: Image of Sony Watchman courtesy of

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

3 Responses to “Do we really need live TV on our cell phones?”

  1. Michael says:

    No. No one needs television on your cell phone, especially if you have YouTube and iTunes videos on your iPhone. Who wants to watch boring TV when you can watch crappy user generated content or spend $1.99 for tv shows that are only worth watching once.

  2. Matt S says:

    Audience = Sports Fans and Sports Gamblers

    Compelling Reason = Outcome of Games in Real Time

    The plus is:
    – no delayed score quotes from your push service
    – no delayed scores from the web site you check
    – if you have a headset you can turn on the mobile TV and listen to the game on headphones
    – can go to a bar or go out with friends and not miss the game
    – can drive to whereverville and not miss the game

    I’d never watch 24, Prison Break or Soprano’s on a mobile device

    Over and Out

  3. Marco says:

    I think the success of Mobile TV will depend very much on the audience, the content and the usage scenario (TPO) plus the business model behind it.

    Take Japan for example: people here commute everyday for approximately 1-1.5 hours. And this commute is mostly passive (sitting/standing in the train). A good chance to sit down and watch some life mobile TV on their mobile phones (One Seg).

    Not many are doing it right now but the user base is increasing. Most of these users enjoy being passive (lean back approach) and just watch what is on air just to relax and chill out. Interestingly even mobile TV here in Japan offers some interactivity (data channels, click to buy etc.) it is not widely used and most of the users prefer the lean-back approach.

    Of course this commuting TPO scenario is very different from the US and Europe but it shows there is a market for these services. For now the service is free and a working business model still needs to emerge.

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