While so far mobile TV is an emerging market, the current writers' strike illustrates its potential. In fact, the emergence of new devices like video phones is a big reason there is a strike: Writers want a share of profits from distribution on wireless devices, while studios have strongly resisted.
Still, both sides admit that uncertainty reigns about just how many people will choose to watch a full episode of Desperate Housewives on a small screen or even a clip from Jay Leno's monologue a day later (though iTunes, which offers both, apparently has had some success). Another issue: Which business model will ultimately prevail—subscription-based or ad-supported?
No one involved in mobile TV is taking any chances they will be left on the sidelines. Networks are aggressively cutting deals with wireless carriers to make their content available, while the carriers firmly believe they can lure new customers—and get them to pay more—by offering an attractive menu.
As a result, networks are walking a fine line. While they've always said they want their programming distributed as widely as possible, some have cut deals making content available only to certain wireless providers, such as HBO with AT&T. That's driven by the carriers, particularly Sprint, which have looked to offer exclusive content to gain a leg up in marketing.
So as mobile TV finds its legs, what's currently being offered on the market by the largest wireless carriers and providers? Here's a sampler:
This joint venture has an exclusive deal to offer HBO Mobile, which includes lengthy clips from hit shows Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm (separated into eight-minute chapters in case people don't have time to watch the full half-hour at once), as well as highlights from The Sopranos. Also, Inside the NFL's co-host Cris Carter does a segment specifically for HBO Mobile each week. Like its competitors, AT&T offers a suite of Viacom on-demand content including MTV and Nickelodeon, with top shows ranging from The Hills to SpongeBob SquarePants. In sports, there is also a Fox Sports feed, a Major League Baseball channel, a college sports feed and an exclusive NASCAR channel.
Verizon V Cast mobile tv:
The only carrier with ESPN Mobile TV, which offers an expanding lineup highlighted by hundreds of live NBA and college basketball games this season. The mobile-only ESPN network also offers popular shows condensed into “best of” or clip packages.
V Cast Mobile TV offers only eight channels, but it is a live broadcast service with linear networks from CBS and Fox developed specifically for the platform. Those offer full prime-time shows such as CSI and Bones, respectively. (V Cast uses the MediaFLO network as its backbone, which offers a very good picture. AT&T has said it will employ the platform early next year.)
Verizon offers on-demand short-form clips through its V Cast service, culled from networks such as Discovery. V Cast Mobile TV also has 24/7 linear feeds of MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, airing full episodes of top shows such as Run's House, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Dora the Explorer.
The service also offers an NBC linear channel with full episodes of several prime time series, and an NBC news channel that shows Today, programs from CNBC and other content.
The service is the only one to offer full primetime episodes of ABC hits such as Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty—both on a linear ABC Mobile network and on-demand—as part of a broader deal with Disney (full episodes of CBS series are also available on demand).
The ABC Mobile network also offers footage not seen during the live TV broadcast of news programs such as Good Morning America. There's also a Disney Channel 24/7 feed featuring full-length programs including the telemovie High School Musical II and series such as Hannah Montana. The ABC News Now channel (not exclusive to Sprint) offers live breaking-news coverage.
Sprint also has an exclusive deal to carry a simulcast of the NFL Network; the deal does not include live games, but does offer an on-demand section with game highlights and other clips from the league. Sprint also offers the CNN Mobile feed.
It has offered exclusive “mobisodes” from Fox based on storylines from hits Prison Break and 24, and plans to do more with the network. A new crew of actors appear in the mobile versions of both shows, but the action is consistent with the plots for the network versions. The Prison Break: Proof of Innocence series of two-minute shorts broke ground by including 10-second pre-roll spots for Toyota as the automaker sought a new way to reach young adults.
Axcess TV on Alltel:
Like AT&T and Sprint, Alltel offers the suite of simulcast and mobile-only channels provided by MobiTV.
Alltel features an NBC Universal network dedicated to airing a loop of FridayNight Lights episodes; simulcasts of MSNBC and Fox News; and an NBC Sports channel programmed for mobile that is offering live simulcasts of Notre Dame football games this fall. Also not unique to Alltel are four channels from Discovery, one from the Oxygen network and a simulcast of The Weather Channel. But the carrier, a sponsor of a NASCAR car, does offer its own dedicated Alltel Racing Channel.
Raleigh, N.C.-based News Over Wireless gives local stations the opportunity to distribute video clips covering news, weather and sports, helping them diversify revenue streams. Some 81 stations—including CBS O&Os, and Gannett and LIN TV outlets—offer content under a My Local TV banner on Sprint TV. The clips aren't live and are no more than two minutes in length, but they can be updated throughout the day.
Users who pay the $4.95 access fee can view clips from every market. Separately, News Over Wireless offers consumers the opportunity to receive the service free with ads, and on carriers besides Sprint. Other companies are also helping stations stream video.
Special mobile content:
As more consumers subscribe to mobile TV services, networks are developing content specifically with the platform in mind. CBS Mobile this week will debut Danny Bonaduce: Life Coach on major carriers. Eight original animated shorts, with Bonaduce doing voiceover, will be released every two weeks (the content will also be available on cbs.com and elsewhere).
Sprint has already offered exclusive “mobisodes” and plans more mobile-only content. And ABC has run a series of original video shorts, called Voicemail, about a 20-something slacker, on both ABC.com and mobile.