Commentary

Mobile TV: 'There Was a Key... There Has to Be a Key'

Tuesday night I discovered the best part of having mobile TV. You can watch something really interesting like "The Caine Mutiny" on a handheld, while the two contenders for leading our nation amble through the worst financial crisis in generations on TV. When AT&T's Mobile TV signal actually did find me (patchy at best), the grid of available stations was little different from Verizon's MediaFLO implementation. But CNN was there -- as was "The Caine Mutiny," running on a mobile movie channel, Pix. About a half hour into the reruns of familiar stump speeches, my bored mind struggled to locate parallels between the movie and these two political stiffs. I don't dislike either of the candidates, so I am loathe to dress McCain as Captain Queeg or Obama as Fred "Mr. Keefer" MacMurray. But when McCain called the Presidential nominee of the majority party of the United States of America, "that one," it is a little hard to resist.

AT&T's flavor of MediaFLO generally follows the Verizon content structure I explored last time -- linear feeds from cable and broadcast sources that are not amenable to opportunity viewing. If you happen to drop into a station during one of their longer ad pods, then your five minute video snack gets spent on a string of 30s. Good thing you decided to pay the extra monthly charge for this, eh?

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What I do find curious about both services is the different ideas circulating around what to do with the ad pods. In some channels like CNBC, I saw the same ads on mobile as were running on TV: a pure, unadulterated feed. NBC2Go, which ran the network's prime-time shows, took a different tack by inserting tune-in ads and promos for NBC and Bravo shows. With rare exceptions, I see the same approach in NBC's video podcasts, which seems to suggest that for now they feel that mobile is a brand extension pure and simple.

Smarter still, they slipped in segments from "The Today Show." Now there is an idea that actually exploits early mover advantage. When a media brand like NBC finds itself with a large share of voice on a new platform, it has the opportunity to recapture viewers it may have lost in the great migration to mobile. Before CBS started pouring content into mobile, I barely remembered its news division existed. By being ubiquitous in mobile video, it has an opportunity to remind lost souls like me the network lives outside of Sunday at 7 p.m. Filling ad pods with actual programming, as NBC seems to do, is a smart use of un-monetized mobile air time.

When mobile TV first started, early-in players like MobiTV used to talk about leveraging a TV stream's local avails for their own ads. I only saw this once in a couple of nights of MediaFLO viewing. One of the Fox channels slipped a dedicated mobile ad into the pod -- but it was for MediaFLO itself. Now, there's a poser. Anyone viewing the ad in this slot almost certainly has subscribed to the service already. For a second the ad gave me an out-of-body experience. Wait a sec. Where am I? On the Web? Isn't this spot of empty air where most local stations would slip in a PSA?

MTV on VCast TV had a fascinating approach that will warm the hearts of purists: they ran music videos in the ad pods around the reality show programming that fills most of their prime time now. No joke. You actually can watch music videos again on MTV itself... if you get it on mobile.

Just as I am not sure what formats of linear mobile TV make sense, I can't pretend to know what manner of ad pod will work here. The current iterations all feel like unimaginative stand-ins for a solution. By comparison, the options for mobile clipcasting and VOD seem richer simply because there is more real estate. Around the video viewing experience there is opportunity for sponsorships, branded clip bundles and of course pre-rolls. Linear programming like this is almost hamstrung by the basic format, which is too much like TV to accommodate interesting solutions. At the same time. it is unlike TV in ways that make other solutions untenable. Can you even use the bottom third of the screen for an overlay, shrink the image for a timed wraparound? Those are my intuitive responses to the problem, but they can't be right either.

Not to get all Queegy on us, but there is a key. There has to be a key.

There is a key. There has to be a key.

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