Mobile TV slides off the radar in Europe

The failure of early attempts to attract European consumers to watch mobile TV could be excused for being hampered by clunky handsets and flaky networks. Several valiant efforts were made by enthusiastic operators and equipment vendors, but most 'trials' faded after poor consumer reaction and the hefty infrastructure Capex and Opex required.

The latest operator to admit defeat is the MVNO Virgin Mobile France. Working in partnership with the French transmitter company TDF, the two firms have 'postponed' the launch of mobile TV services in the country after being given the go ahead by the national TV watchdog CSA last April to switch on the service in the first half of 2011.

The plan was to provide coverage to around 50 per cent of the French population and attract a million paying subscribers within the short term--perhaps a somewhat ambitious target given the history of mobile TV in Europe.

Insiders also suggest that Virgin Mobile was concerned at government plans to increase VAT on TV services, having designed its ROI business model on the old, lower rate of VAT.

Other observers also claim that the DVB-NGH (next generation hand held) European standard adopted by France would not likely be ready until 2014 at the earliest. If true, it's hard to understand why Virgin Mobile France even thought about going down this road. But after watching what others had been through using DVB-H, DVB-SH or MediaFLO, perhaps NGH was the only alternative.

What probably killed the project was a study completed by TDF into the millions of euros needed to build the mobile TV network. It apparently established that the current 3G networks--and future ones--would not be sufficient to meet the strong traffic growth, especially that of mobile video consumption.

As European mobile TV spirals into obscurity, the US market continues to ramp upwards.

The latest move comes from 12 major TV broadcasters, branding themselves as the Mobile Content Venture (MCV), announcing they would upgrade TV stations to begin delivering mobile digital TV in 20 US markets covering more than 40 per cent of the country's population.

The MCV initiative has also received commitments from several manufacturers, including Dell and Samsung, to create MCV-compatible devices within the next few months in time for a commercial launch later this year. - Paul