Mobile video podcasting: The killer app for mobile video?


Mobile video podcasting: The killer app for mobile video?


Written from first principles, the article explores the potential impact of mobile video technology. I propose that mobile video podcasting(for the lack of a better word) will emerge as the killer app for mobile video.


In the financial times in Tuesday June 21 (London), there was a statement from McKinsey (Global management consultancy) :

“The basis for content on the Internet is shifting from text to video”.

I believe that the mobile Internet is also mirroring this seminal shift. As with many significant developments, this one has been creeping quietly upon us and suddenly it’s a bandwagon! However, unlike traditional hype(vapourware), for once, there is a definite date to watch – June 9, 2006, – the soccer world cup in Germany. This event is billed as the grand showcase for mobile video. For the first time, it will be possible to view video clips of the world cup on your advanced mobile phones.

Video content(movies, TV programs etc) is fast becoming digitised and thus deployable over different technologies. There is a lot of buzz(and some might say hype) around mobile video/TV. According to consultancy Strategy Analytics , mobile broadcast networks will have acquired around 51 million users worldwide by 2009, producing around $6.6bn (£3.5bn) in revenue.

As the above statistic shows, many in the industry discuss ‘Mobile TV’ and ‘Mobile Video’ in conjunction with each other focussing perhaps on mobile TV – more than mobile video. However, ‘mobile video’, is the technology and ‘Mobile TV’ is just one application of this technology. In fact, discussing Mobile TV and Video together trivialises the potential of Mobile Video. It gives the impression that the two are synonymous. In other words, it gives the impression that the only application of mobile video is mobile TV. As we discuss below, that’s not quite true and I believe that the biggest application of Mobile video will be ‘mobile video podcasting’ (for the lack of a better word).

Significantly, the entire value chain is being affected ranging from mobile operators, handset manufacturers, broadcasters to content creators. Also, new value chains are being created in the industry. Consider these examples of recent industry activity

· Fixed line operators like BT are launching trials of IPTV.

· Search engines like google and yahoo are extending search to video.

· Mobile networks are working with streaming video.

· VCs are funding start-ups like blinkx to enable audio and video search

· Triple play is the new buzz word which providers aspire to(i.e. providing online access, telephony and television)

· Takeout TV in Korea is getting some industry attention

· Media players like Fox entertainment are launching Mobisodes

Amongst all this, it’s debatable if customers are actually willing to pay for mobile TV. Naïve commentators have already written it off on the grounds that ‘we don’t know if customers will pay for it. Hence it may end up like MMS etc etc’

Once again, they are confusing technology with application.

Mobile TV is getting some media interest because it is getting interest from content owners like the movie and television companies. Customers may or may not be interested in watching TV/movie clips on mobile phones. Mobile TV follows the traditional broadcast model – which means transmitting information to consumers who are passively expected to consume whatever they are being fed. Some providers are trying to make it ‘free’ by ad sponsorship. It’s debatable if people will want to watch ads in a small video clip. It’s further debatable as to what is ‘free’ – in the sense that the customer still pays for data charges which could be significant(we will come back to this later).

Understanding Mobile video technology

To understand the true potential of mobile video – we have to separate it from mobile TV and look at the underlying technology. There are two main competing technologies in this space - Digital Multimedia Broadcasting ( DMB) ) and Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld ( DVB-H ).

It’s no coincidence that they both have the word ‘broadcasting’ in their acronym. The first thing to understand about mobile video is – it is indeed broadcasting.Mobile video can be viewed similar to an FM radio receiver on the mobile device. It can receive any compatible transmission.

The receiver can ‘pick up’ any transmission – i.e. it does not have to come through the mobile operator. This feature makes mobile video a disruptive technology. Similar to technologies like Bluetooth and WIFI – mobile video may not necessarily generate revenue for the mobile operator. Thus, it has found more enthusiastic initial support amongst the handset manufacturer community than the mobile operator community.

However, the broadcast(one to many) model could be complemented by the personalization (one to one) model made possible by 3G. For example – a video of a race could be seen via broadcast but interactive betting would be possible via 3G.

As we mentioned above, the main two technologies being developed in this space are DMB and DVB-H. DMB (digital media broadcast) is deployed in Korea with some support outside of Korea. DVB-H (digital video broadcast – handheld) is popular in Europe. Besides these, there are others such as ISDB-T (integrated services digital broadcast – terrestrial) in Japan and standards being developed in China.

DMB and DVB-H come from different backgrounds – each having advantages and disadvantages. DMB is based on the DAB(Digital audio broadcast) standard which itself is already deployed in many countries. DVB-H, on the other hand is based on DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) standard that is used for digital television. Each technology has it’s supporters and detractors. Whichever technology proliferates in a particular geography, mobile video itself seems to be a promising application(to re-emphasise once again – mobile video is not the same as mobile TV).

Ofcourse, video could reach handsets over other technologies – 3G, WIFI and so on. However, the industry seems to be favouring a broadcast solution. Besides the choice of technology itself, there are other issues such as DRM and copy protection. The actual experience(and cost) of downloaded video clips is yet to be determined. Thus, the technology exists. But content, pricing, DRM issues remain.

So, what could mobile video technology be used for? Consider that it has a viral element to it(since content does not necessarily need to go through an Operator). Hence, my bet is – Mobile video podcasting.

What is podcasting?

According to Wikipedia(www., ‘Podcasting is a method of publishing files via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new files automatically. It became popular in late 2004, intended largely for downloading audio files onto a portable MP3 player. However, listening to podcasts does not require a portable player and it is not traditional “broadcasting” to a mass audience at a fixed time.’

Podcasting is a portmanteau word, combing “broadcasting” with the name of Apple Computer’s iPod audio player (although podcasting was not invented by Apple, nor do podcasts require a portable player or Apple software).

It is distinct from other types of online audio delivery because of its subscription model, which uses the RSS 2.0 file format. Podcasting enables independent producers to create self-published, syndicated “radio shows,” and gives broadcast radio programs a new distribution channel. Listeners may subscribe to feeds using “podcatching” software (a type of “aggregator”), which periodically checks for and downloads new content. Some podcatching software is also able to synchronise (copy) podcasts to portable music players. Any digital audio player or computer with audio-playing software can play podcasts. The same technique can deliver video files, and by 2005 some aggregators could play video as well as audio.’

The very last sentence alludes to the concept we are discussing – i.e. the ability to manage video content.

It is an intuitive step to consider a personalised ‘video channel’ – broadcast(podcast) by an individual and downloaded by interested subscribers.

Creation and publication of content have become easier. Hence, more people are creating and distributing their own content. If mobile video can be positioned as the optimal(cheapest, easiest) method to acquire video content – then many more providers may adopt the medium.

While RSS has potential to deploy content(an RSS feed could be automatically updated – keeping the content fresh) – the biggest problem with RSS at the moment is – it will use the 3G radio network. This means, IP charges will have to be paid. That’s not the case for mobile video(which is not transmitted over the 3G network).

In the last OpenGardens event , I naively asked Mike Selby(Nokia Global VP) – ‘Can anyone set up a TV broadcasting station?’ Obviously not! There are a ton of regulations to stop you. But … Here is my train of thought ..

a) Can anyone set up a ‘podcasting’ station? – Yes – already being done

b) Can video be a part of podcasting? Yes – most definitely

c) Can RSS be the conventional method of broadcasting video on mobile devices? – probably not because of IP charges

So, I leave you with the question – can mobile video be used to achieve ‘mobile video podcasting’? My view is YES – because – conceptually, it’s not a big leap from podcasting and further, it does not involve IP charges over the telecoms netwok. I seek your views.

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