Monday, April 11, 2011
One trend of television technology these days is to make televisions as small as possible. Many companies; including Sony, Dish Network, Toshiba, Samsung, Apple, and several lesser known companies; have produced portable video devices over the past few years. Generally these devices are designed to download video content from the Internet or a Digital Video Recorder to be stored on their hard drives and viewed when the user gets around to it. These devices are great for when their owners can choose in advance what they want to watch. They're particularly useful for people on the go who don't have a lot of time to sit around and watch TV at home, but may have the time watch on a subway, airplane, or while standing in line waiting for something.
Now, it's possible to get television content in real time thanks to new technology that allows people to watch television on their mobile phones. Like many other television trends this is especially popular in Japan where mobile phones are extremely popular and people use them for a lot of different things. For example, there are a little more than 90 million mobile phone users in Japan who, on average, replace their phones as often as every year and a half. Many Japanese mobile phone users are in the habit of using the devices to surf the Internet, check and send email, and for online shopping. All of these trends make Japan the perfect testing ground for this technology.
Unfortunately there are some serious barriers to this technology taking off. Not enough people use the service overall to really create a market for advertising along with the program content. Right now the program content for mobile phones is free, just like over the air TV broadcasts, but of course since the content has to travel over wireless network, it costs more money to provide. A lot of people in television broadcasting and the wireless phone markets are hoping for a way to somehow combine mobile phone TV service with e-commerce. If so, the the service would serve as a gateway to revenues from the tendency of the Japanese to shop on their mobile phones. If this actually works out it could serve as a unique market as more and more people have mobile phones capable of watching TV on. In any case, this is a unique example of technology that's emerged and gone public without having any concrete business model of how it's going to be paid for.
Of course, this also begs the question, why not pass on the cost of providing the content on to the mobile phone users who watch? The industry seems to be shying away from that option probably because of a combination of fear that that will alienate users of the service and the widespread agreement that once a business model is agreed upon and implemented, this step will be largely unnecessary.
Another development of this technology that we can expect is to see it included in other devices like GPS units and portable video game units. By extension, we may soon see dedicated mobile television devices or mobile television integrated into some of the portable video devices we see on the market now. In this sense, portable video devices really would be like home entertainment centers in miniature. You could either watch live television or a recording. It would be your choice.