Verizon Wireless finally announced its long-awaited plans for Qualcomm's MediaFLO service, saying it will kick off the service this quarter with eight broadcast channels. The service is essentially broadcast and cable over the phone--the Samsung SCH-u620 and the LG VX9400 phones to be exact. The 24-hour-a-day service will feature full-length broadcast-quality programs from broadcasters like CBS, NBC, MTV and Fox in a time-block format in both Eastern and Pacific time zones. Verizon has plans to extend the number of channels it offers to 20 by the end of the year.
But the announcement leaves a host of questions. The primary one is how much is Verizon charging? Verizon isn't offering an answer to that one at this point, except to say that the service will be affordable and will be positioned as a premium-access extension to its existing VCast Video program, which delivers on-demand clips over its EV-DO network. We all know pricing is key to the take-up of any mobile offering. I suspect Verizon might offer some low pricing to encourage adoption, hence its decision to show advertisements along with the programming to increase revenues. How excited will consumers be about paying extra for mobile TV and watching advertisements?
I tend to agree with some of the research out there that says the idea of simply watching the entire output of a particular TV channel on a mobile handset isn't very attractive to users. They want a much more customized service. Ironically, the uptake of MediaFLO might just be stymied by Verizon's own VCast Video service, which Verizon customers have become accustomed to believing is the norm for mobile TV. The challenge will be to educate the consumer about what mobile TV really is and give them an incentive to use MediaFLO.
The mobile TV message is already getting confusing. Sprint Nextel has decided against MediaFLO for the time being. It will be finishing up its trial of the technology at the end of the month and says it has no immediate plans to deploy MediaFLO but will continue to evaluate it. Instead, it touted its mobile video accomplishments yesterday, announcing that more than 1 million customers have mobile video capability over either EV-DO or 1xRTT. The number is essentially a meaningless one since it doesn't tell us how many customers actually use the service. Nevertheless, a Sprint spokesman says: "We believe today that Sprint offers the most complete mobile video offering available in the market, with the most selection of content, a large assortment of handsets, an extensive nationwide coverage, a major amount of customers who can access it immediately and several other differentiators. I'm sure Sprint will change its mind about MediaFLO if it sees Verizon gaining a competitive foothold in the market before it can introduce its own high quality simulcast and multicast service over WiMAX.
In the meantime, let the mobile TV semantics war begin. -Lynnette