510m (oR 446m, or 102M) watching mobile TV in 2011

Three market forecasts for the growth of mobile TV have dropped on to our desk recently, and it’s interesting to observe their differences.
In-Stat for instance forecasts 102m mobile TV subscribers by the end of 2010. It reckons there will be 3.4m worldwide by the end of 2006.

IMS Research and ABI Research are much more bullish. IMS forecasts that by the end of 2011 – admittedly a year later – there will be 446m people watching TV on mobile handsets. ABI puts the worldwide subscriber figure at 514m for the same year, up from 6.4m at the end of 2005.
Driven primarily by the adoption of broadcast-based services such as DVB-H, mobile digital TV will experience 50% year-on-year growth in the rest of the decade, says IMS.
There’s also some difference on the future for unicasting – video signals streamed on demand to an individual handset – is doomed. IMS thinks TV delivered over the cellular data network should build on its early lead in the marketplace for the next few years, but beginning in 2010 there will be even quicker growth in digital broadcast services. “By 2011 more than half of the world’s mobile TV subscribers will receive their video via a mobile digital broadcast service” says IMS.
ABI is more pessimistic about unicast. “Broadcast will be the preferred method of access to mobile video for most people,” says principal analyst Ken Hyers. “ABI Research believes that the majority of subscription services will be for broadcast content, and that unicast-only subscriptions will not be a significant part of the market.”
They can’t all be right. So maybe we should take with a pinch of salt their enthusiasm for the technology.
Here’s Stephen Froehlich, one of the authors of an IMS Research report: “Given the right conditions, mobile TV has the potential to spread from one customer to the next like few technologies before it. If providers effectively supply compelling content, quality reception, and affordable, attractive phones, then every new mobile TV subscriber can become a mobile TV evangelist. However, to make their customers into product evangelists, mobile TV service providers and their partners must invest enough in infrastructure and technology to enable both wide population coverage and good indoor reception.”
 “The greatest challenge for mobile TV broadcast operators is to acquire the spectrum necessary to offer services,” says Michelle Abraham, In-Stat analyst. “Spectrum availability may determine which of the four standards is chosen, and also impacts the business case for the deployment of a network.”
The analysts presumably know more than we do, but it’s pretty clear that a combination of TV networks, mobile phone companies and the mobile content industry are basically obsessed with getting video content on to mobile phones. It’s much less certain that the subscribers are going to pay to watch TV, particularly at the add-on prices currently being charged in the UK.
Some observers have also pointed out that the mobile industry and its self-styled analysts have failed to recognise the advance of WiFi-based VoIP, which can provide not only ‘free’ phone calls but also a free way of loading content on to the handsets too.
In the meantime, Virgin Mobile TV went live on 1 October, broadcasting BBC One, ITV1, Channel 4 (initially the made-for-mobile Short Cuts channel, full Channel 4 simulcast to follow) and E4. This is the BT Movio service that was trialled successfully in the M25 area earlier this year, using the DAB spectrum – the service also gives the subscriber DAB digital radio. It needs the Virgin Mobile Lobster 700 Mobile TV phone, available free on contract along with the TV service at £25 a month (prepay at £199 to includes three months of TV free, then £5 a month for the service).
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