Commentary

Mobile TV Regroups For 2011

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Along with the explosion of tablets, Android devices and 4G phones, one of the trends emerging from the Consumer Electronics Show this week is a fresh mobile video push in 2011. Despite the shutdown of Qualcomm's FLO TV service last year and the sale of the FLO spectrum to AT&T, broadcasters, carriers and handset makers are rolling out new initiatives banking on a growing mobile video audience.

Among the most high-profile ventures is Samsung's partnership with Comcast and Time Warner Cable to deliver content to mobile devices and its Internet-connected TVs. Under the deal, Samsung would offer the two cable giants' video programming to its "Smart TVs" with an Internet link and its Galaxy Tab tablet. Samsung, with a large footprint in both mobile and TV, is well positioned to help bring the two media together.

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And an argument could be made that Internet-connected TV could get traction faster on mobile devices than on the living room TV, where traditional viewing habits have been difficult for technology companies to break. Users would be able to use the Galaxy Tab to search TV content as well as watch live TV on the tablet throughout the home.

Separately, Comcast revealed plans to bring live TV functionality to the iPad as well as Android devices. And Hulu, which is also a partner in Samsung's Smart TV rollout, announced Hulu Plus would be available on Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S.

Among mobile-only players, mobiTV is one company that appears to be benefiting from the void left by the demise of FLO TV. The mobile video service will work with Mobile Content Venture, the mobile video effort started last year by a group of 12 broadcast companies, to deliver video services and program information to DTV-compatible devices.

Separately, mobiTV will power a forthcoming branded mobile video service from AT&T later this year, according to a FierceWireless report. The carrier will stop selling the version of the FLO TV it offered for handsets able to access the video broadcast service. Unlike FLO, MobiTV is meant to be accessible from any handset or network. MobiTV this week also expanded its reach to the iPad with a new app tailored to the Apple tablet.

Skype is getting in on the act, too. The Internet calling company Thursday announced it was acquiring mobile video software and services provider Qik. The company's platform allows people to capture and share video across mobile devices and the desktop. Skype also launched a group video calling service for business that starts at $8.99 a month.

For now, most of these mobile video ventures are just plans, with product launches vaguely promised for sometime later in 2011. Grand plans announced at CES in January can devolve into half-remembered Next Big Things a year on. At the Las Vegas tech bonanza last year, there was buzz around the Tivit, a pocket-size device for streaming TV to mobile devices including Android phones, the BlackBerry and iPhone. Has anyone heard anything about the Tivit lately?

If nothing else, the future of mobile TV in 2011 looks likely to be shaped by the Samsungs, Apples and Time Warners of the world rather than any as-yet-unknown startups. But with only about 10% of U.S. mobile subscribers watching mobile video, the opportunity for growth remains.

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