Mobile TV, hyped by the wireless industry as one of the next big things for years, is still a tiny market in the U.S. (Yes, we know — it’s big in Asia. But so was this.) Will it ever take off? Do most people want to watch video on their phones?
During Q1, 2.2 million wireless subscribers — 1% of the U.S. market — watched broadcast TV programming, via services like MobiTV, and Qualcomm’s MediaFlo, on their mobile phones, according to research firm M:Metrics. That’s 83% more than a year ago, when 1.2 million Americans watched TV on their phones. So yes, it’s growing.
Add video sent by family and friends and on-demand mobile video — like Google (GOOG) YouTube clips, etc — and 13.6 million Americans, or 6% of the market, watch some sort of video on their phones. (M:Metrics doesn’t have a Q1 2007 stat for this metric, so we can’t follow it year-over-year, but mobile video consumption has grown about 11% since the end of 2007.)
What’s driving this growth? We don’t know the exact reason, but we imagine it’s a combination of the following:
More phones capable of using fast 3G wireless networks or wi-fi hotspots: Faster downloads and more consumption of all-you-can-eat mobile data plans makes watching mobile video painless, or at least less painful.
More broadcast TV content available, albeit for a fee: Mobile TV service via MediaFlo is now available on Verizon and AT&T (T), the two biggest carriers. We don’t think a lot of people will pay for this in the long run, and it’s awkward because you often need a special phone. But at this point, any viewership counts for something.
More smartphones: Phones like Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, newer BlackBerry gadgets from RIM (RIMM), and smartphones from HTC have big, bright screens that make video-watching better. Thanks to the iPhone’s built-in iTunes video synching and easy access to YouTube, some 31% of iPhone owners watch video on their phones.
Will mobile video watching become a mainstream activity? We think mobile phones are excellent gadgets for video “snacking,” like YouTube clips, SNL skits, music videos, and other 2-4 minute samples. We have a hard time seeing full-length, programmed mobile TV taking up much more of the market, unless companies can make it free, and compatible with more phones.
We’re curious: Do you watch video on your phone? Mostly free, short clips? Or do you subscribe to a monthly mobile TV service like MediaFlo or MobiTV?
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