Excessive hype is part and parcel of the mobile industry, so it’s no surprise to see mobile TV being presented as a televised revolution on your phone. And yes, even on a two-inch screen, watching TV is surprisingly rewarding – at least until Apple gets its arse into gear to launch downloadable shows for iPods here in the UK.
Yet there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why are mobile TV services so restrictive? Think about the way TV in the home is going. I can set Sky+ to record a bunch of shows, and watch them whenever I want. I can access on-demand programmes from NTL. It’s taking time, but the iron of the TV Schedulers is gradually creaking to an end.
So why, on my mobile phone, am I being thrown back into the dark ages, where if you tune in at, say, 3pm, you’ll jolly well watch whatever a channel is showing at that point in time?
To my mind, mobile should be the ultimate on-demand device, allowing me to watch whatever programme I want, in short bursts, when i want to. Being tied to Channel 4′s schedule doesn’t interest me if I could be watching last night’s Lost, for example. Yet this seems to be what’s being offered by the mobile operators. Turn on, tune in, don’t complain if it’s Gillian McKeith.
Of course, live streaming of certain channels makes sense. News, for example, particularly when there’s a big disaster or event happening. On July 7th last year, my tube train was evacuated at Moorgate after the suicide bombs, and I couldn’t find out what happened until I reached work and a screen showing rolling Sky News, despite constantly checking the news section on my operator’s portal. If the same thing happened now, Vodafone users can watch live Sky News.
But for other kinds of channels, linear scheduling on mobile just seems barmy. The BBC’s Integrated Media Player scheme seems to be a more logical way forward, letting you download programmes to watch on your mobile devices up to a week after they’ve aired on normal TV. If it launches and is successful, hopefully others will follow suit.
Having covered the mobile industry as a journalist and analyst, I know there are business and technological reasons why mobile TV has been mainly about live simulcasts. But as these issues are solved, it will be a huge shame if we don’t move towards something more personalised and interactive. If I’ve got more control over the TV I watch in my living room, surely that should be replicated on my mobile, which is an even more personal device?