One reason that Qualcomm’s FLO TV mobile television division has had a slow start: It’s only available on select phones that have a special chip inside them. That’s currently about 9 phones of roughly 100-plus in the U.S. market — and none of the hot phones, like Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerry devices, etc.
That will change: FLO TV President Bill Stone tells us his company is planning to offer its mobile TV service as an add-on accessory; not just something that’s built into new phones.
For instance, the new iPhone 3.0 accessory APIs mean that FLO TV could offer a small antenna/chip accessory that plugs into the iPhone or iPod touch, allowing users to watch FLO TV. Stone says it’s something FLO TV is working on, but declined to estimate when it could launch. We expect sometime next year.
The company also plans to build similar add-ons for other smartphone platforms, such as Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile phones, etc. Some could potentially plug in via accessory slots; others could work wirelessly via wi-fi or Bluetooth.
That could help boost subscribership, which is currently low. FLO TV doesn’t disclose how many subscribers it has, due to nondisclosure agreements with its customers, AT&T and Verizon. But research firm comScore says less than 1% of U.S. wireless subscribers watch broadcast TV programming on their phones each year — not enough to make FLO TV viable. (It’s “all about scale,” Stone says. That means signing up a lot more customers.)
Being available for more devices — not just mobile phones, but also backseat entertainment devices in cars, laptops, etc. — is just one piece of the growth puzzle for FLO TV.
In addition, the company needs to continue rolling out its network in more cities — FLO TV plans to cover an area reaching 200 million people by the end of the year — and must also lower its pricing. AT&T and Verizon have been charging $15 extra per month for FLO TV, or bundling it into more expensive data packages.
Asking someone to spend $25-$30 per month for mobile TV — especially in a recession — is “pretty high,” Stone admits.
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