INTERVIEW: Anders Norström, managing director of MobiTV Europe, talks about the company’s expansion plans and the growing consumer appetite for mobile TV

While the uptake of mobile TV has been a slow process, it finally appears to be gathering pace.

MobiTV, founded in 1999, was the first to bring live TV to mobile devices and remains at the forefront of a field that is becoming increasingly competitive.

It is firmly established in North America where it was first rolled out via carriers such as AT&T, Cingular and Sprint.

Now the California-based pioneer of mobile TV is looking to broaden its reach and is in the process of developing its services for the European market.

Anders Norström, managing director of MobiTV Europe, told that he strongly believed there is now a mass market for mobile TV – something backed up by his company’s rapidly growing subscriber numbers.

It now offers content and primetime channels to over 6 million subscribers on more than 350 handset models on its managed mobile media service.

In February it added the iPhone to the list of supported handsets (although Apple approval is still pending).

Anders Norström, managing director of MobiTV Europe

"The last million only took a couple of months. It’s really taken off," said Norström.

MobiTV’s Media Distribution Platform has shown it’s able to deliver live streaming and on demand video content.

In March, it was used in CBS Sport’s NCAA March Madness app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which provided live streaming video and audio over a wi-fi connection from the 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

The massive popularity of MobiTv’s live airing of Barack Obama’s inauguration to its subscribers is another indicator of the way things are moving, according to Norstrom.

"It was a huge usage of this kind of service. It’s really coming on," he said. "The network is becoming better, devices are becoming so much better and the back-end technology is so much better.

"So we have an increased end user experience."

Expansion Into Europe

Norström said the US is currently MobiTV’s main market, followed by South America.

But he said Europe is the next target. The company is currently in discussion with different customers and carriers.

"Hopefully by the end of the summer we will be deploying our first services," he said.

"The European market is huge. There are very good networks and really good content."

The approach and strategy taken in Europe will be slightly different to that across the Atlantic, according to Norström.

In the US, carriers are more interested in total managed services whereas in Europe he said media carriers often want to run them in-house.

So MobiTV is giving them the opportunity to have either, or to begin with a managed service and transfer to their own network once they are up and running.

Since there are very few pan-European channels – Bloomberg and MTV, being examples – Norström said most content was specific to countries and made in the local language (German, Italian, French etc).

He said Tier 1 carriers largely did their own content deals, adding: "But we have contacts in the content and industry and can help them – we are an enabler."

Hybrid Services In Future

Looking ahead, Norström said the type of content likely to be made available on mobile TV services would be mixed between TV, video on demand and live broadcasts.

It would also comprise hybrid services, which combine broadcast and unicast video on demand – a mix of content and technology.

He said in the US this will take the form of joint ventures, providing free-to-air DVB-H/ATSC-M/H services as well as the unicast/VOD solutions.

This is necessary for 3G carriers, which are short-cut by DVB-H, and want to be involved in the "action", according to Norström.

MobiTV is also now offering localised services on top of its standard platform.

Personalised Services "Essential"

These include Mobi4Biz, a version of MobiTV aimed at the financial market which was launched recently for BlackBerry Bold handset owners on the AT&T network.

Norström has no doubt that this more vertical, personalised approach to mobile TV is essential.

"That is the way to go. We are starting to have some overflow of information, as happened on the Internet, with mobile channels," he said.

"How many do we really watch? If you have 30 0r 40 channels on a mobile, does it really make sense?"

Norström said MobiTV will aggregate the information by category – sport, childrens’, business, fashion and so on – and provide a back-end solution.

Interactivity will also become an important ingredient of mobile TV, especially when it comes to ads.

Last year, MobiTV did adverts for BMW that were tailored to choices viewers made while viewing.

Personalised ads is something that Norström said will become part of a bundled package in the future.

Interactive ads allow a profile of users’ interests to be created and allow advertising to be targeted based on individuals’ preferences.

"It should be happening fairly soon in the US," he said. "But we are region agnostic and it will also happen in other markets."

Too Soon For Ad-supported Model

However, while advertising – and especially the targeted variety – has great revenue potential, Norström said MobiTV would not be moving to an ad-supported model any time soon.

"For quite some time more it will be a pay model," he said. "It is realistic that some content will be ad-supported but it will not be the main model."

Network overload is a common concern whenever mobile internet is mentioned, but Norström said he didn’t believe it was a problem at the moment.

He said that even if it did become one, there were technological solutions available to ease the impact of congestion.

These will undoubtedly be required if the way in which the iPhone has vastly increased data traffic levels is anything to go by.

Especially as the Apple handset has spurred other mobile makers, such as Nokia, to replicate the iPhone’s end user experience.

"We will see an increase in data traffic, but we are fully prepared for that," said Norström.

Growth Affected By Downturn

What is also certain is that the global economic downturn will have an impact on the growth of wireless video.

But Norström said that, so far, there had been no increase in churn.

"In the US, it seems people are getting rid of their fixed lines and keeping their mobile devices as the means of consuming content as well," he said.

"But the economic situation will slow down the increase in subscription numbers."

That may be so but improvements in handsets and technology are making the outlook for mobile TV look increasingly bright.

Proof of this comes from growing subscribers – but also from the entry of the likes of Qualcomm in the US and Orange in France into the market.

A healthy development – and one MobiTV appears well placed to deal with.

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