Broadcasting: Does Mobile Matter?

Marketing, September 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

Broadcasting: Does Mobile Matter?

With little research but plenty of hype, expectations remain that mobile TV will flourish at some point. When this will actually happen is less clear, writes Sarah Crawley-Boevey.

As the 50-inch flatscreen TV becomes a must-have for the modern home, it is hardly surprising that consultancy Deloitte has estimated the number of people watching television on their mobile phone will remain flat this year.

Broadcasters and advertising experts in the UK are divided over when and how mobile TV will reach its tipping point, but are united in their agreement that it is the broadcasting medium of tomorrow.

Determining when that tomorrow will actually arrive is a different matter. There is no doubt that the mobile phone is a vital tool for marketers - as a medium, arguably it offers the biggest and most interactive audience of any media. It already encompasses endless ad opportunities as a tool to surf the internet as well as for Bluetooth and SMS marketing.

Not surprisingly, broadcasters are keen to develop mobile TV as an advertising platform, whether through made-for-mobile video clips, viral advertising, live streaming or downloadable shows.

However, consumer uptake has been slower than some expected and the reasons are myriad. At the root of them, as ever, is money - marketers believe broadcasters should invest in the medium, but many are reluctant to do so without ad revenue.

While many marketers might be forgiven for thinking mobile TV is old news, the volume of headlines the industry has garnered has not been matched by significant investment in research into audiences and effectiveness.

The mobile television market has been years in the making, with the earliest forms emerging in the region of three years ago, but several factors have stymied the platform's progress.

Virgin Mobile launched the first broadcast mobile TV service in 2006 but it was available only on one handset, the Lobster 700, and poor consumer uptake saw the venture fold after 15 months.

Uncertainty in the market means the majority of advertisers, agencies and broadcasters are adopting a wait-and-see policy on mobile TV According to, Andy Wasef, emerging platforms director at Mediaedge:cia, the situation is a vicious circle. 'In order to have ad-funded programming, advertisers want to see viewing numbers,' he says. 'To get numbers they need to build a user base with free content, but to make content free, broadcasters need advertisers on board.'

Most mobile phones sold today are 3G-enabled, allowing access to television content. But Wasef believes the mobile phone operators have been too keen to recoup some of the costs of this technology, which has backfired. 'Operators have overestimated what users will pay to receive this service,' he adds.

Not only has 3G capability meant financial outlay for the operator, but the technology has been criticised as a means of streaming video. The target audience, the commuter, is constantly on the move, meaning their phone's signal strength can change and adversely affect the feed.

The BBC's hugely successful iPlayer is available on Apple's iPhone, which can run on wi-fi. Tanya Blacher, creative head of digital at Virgin Media TV, has pitched this service as the most likely victor in the battle of the mainstream broadcasters.

'The combination of compelling and rich content with its resources means it could break through first,' she says. 'But I still think it's unlikely that there will be masses of people watching a full-length soap opera on their phone.'

Agencies are seeing limited interest in advertising around mobile television, but are in little doubt this will pick up. Caroline Jones, head of mobile at Starcom, has noted increased momentum among clients.

'I had to fight to bring in clients 18 months ago, but people are much more interested now,' she says. 'Most clients are still on test budgets, but there are one or two who have embraced it. …

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