Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mobile TV Usage Model and Pricing?

The earlier post by Thomas Husson at JupiterResearch about who will watch the World Cup on their handsets got me thinking about mobile TV usage models and price points. Other than compelling content, what will drive market adoption?

First off, methinks the carriers and content providers have to do a much better job understanding consumer usage models and realistically price programming in line with what consumers pay for video via other mediums such as the Internet, cable, satellite, etc.

If the industry thinks consumers will just blindly pony up $9.95 a month to occasionally watch short snippets of mediocre programming on a handset, they must be smoking something fierce, especially when you compare it to subscribing to 8 channels of HBO from DirecTV, which costs an extra $12 a month on top of the regular package.

To put things in better perspective, here's a personal real world example that may or may not have relevance regarding this topic. As a transplanted New Yorker living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm a die-hard fan of the New York Mets baseball team and New York Giants football team.

In order to keep track of my favorite teams, I use to subscribe to DirecTV's Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Football League (NFL) programming packages. This gave me access to most of the Mets and Giants gammes via satellite TV, since they wouldn't be shown by the local Bay Area televison stations. I stopped subscribing because I wasn't watching enough games to justify the cost ($180 and $229 respectively for a season).

With a new baseball season underway and my Mets' prospects looking the most promising in years, I decided to investigate subscribing again to DirecTV's Extra Innings package. I decided against it since I wasn't sure I could get enough quality time in front of the TV due to having to share the living room with the wife and kids.

Instead I opted to try a one month subscription to MLB.TV, baseball's online live streaming service of most out of market games for $14.95 a month. The video quality is OK on the 4" x 3" window, and not too bad if you go full screen and sit 5 feet away.

So how is this relevant to mobile TV? Well for $14.95 I get to watch/listen to as many live baseball games in a month on my PC. Since I'm in front of my PC most of the day this works out pretty well. If I'm working on something I can just listen to the broadcast or even turn off the sound while on the phone or busy. I can also leave it running when I'm away from my desk. I've watched parts of every Mets game this short season and for that usage model it has been worth the price so far. Of course winning always helps, because it's better than losing :-)

Now imagine if a similar mobile service was offered by a network operator. Most likely my usage model would change. Due to a smaller screen size, I can't imagine watching or listening to a 2+ hour Mets game on a handset while working away at the computer. Instead I'd probably use the service to get quick updates on games when I was out with no access to a TV or PC.

Given this reduced usage model, how much I would pay for the convenience of catching games live via my cell phone? I've already established that $14.95 a month is pretty good for streaming live games to my PC so any price near that for mobility is probably not worth it to me. I think something closer to 66 percent less ($5.00 a month) would make the decision a no brainer.

Of course that's just me, but the lesson here is mobile convenience in itself is not enough to justify some of the high monthly subscription rates the network operators are trying to pass on to consumers to watch mobile TV. The industry needs to better understand what are the mobile TV usage models, how they differ from more traditional viewing habits, and what are the comparable rates being charged by cable, satellite and Internet broadcasters. Until then I think mobile TV will be more miss than hit.

To conclude with a couple of more cheesy baseball metaphors, do you think I'm off-base with my assumptions? Am I smoking something far more stronger than the industry? Will mobile TV be a homerun for the network operators? What do you think?