After months of delays, AT&T (T) will finally start selling MediaFlo, the mobile TV service run by Qualcomm (QCOM), in May, says Reuters. This can’t hurt AT&T: It’s always good to match a feature your main competitor (Verizon Wireless) is offering. But it won’t be a smash hit overnight.
Why not? The TV service itself is fine — decent programming, good picture quality — but it’s self-limiting. The biggest problem: Even if you’re already an AT&T customer, your current phone won’t work — you’ll need to buy a new one. And AT&T will only offer two MediaFlo-capable phones at launch, the LG Vu and the Samsung Access, Moconews reports. Want to watch TV on your RIM (RIMM) BlackBerry, Apple (AAPL) iPhone, or Motorola (MOT) Razr? Tough luck.
There are other limitations, like availability — only in about 60 cities right now — and price. Verizon charges $15 a month, or $180 a year, for basic service. AT&T will likely charge a similar amount. That’s probably too much, but because Qualcomm operates the TV network, carriers can’t offer the service for free without a big subsidy.
Someday, the companies could conceivably sell enough ads to pay for the service. But ads need viewers. And for the forseeable future, MediaFlo is a niche product at best.
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