MWC: Mobile Video Isn’t All That

This week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona hasn’t just been about battling mobile operating systems and the latest chips for cell phones, it’s also about content. For the first time ever, the GSM Association threw a party at the event focused solely on mobile entertainment, “Mobile Backstage.”

While there have been big announcements such as Nielsen talking about tracking online video, and the launch of mobile ad networks such as MMcast, the content news at Mobile World Congress is still a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing (what? too literary?). Mobile video has taken off in a few places such as South Korea and Japan, but for the most part, press releases outnumber the viewers.

M:Metrics calculates the percentage of mobile TV viewers as 5.3 percent of the European subscriber base and 4.5 percent of the U.S. subscriber base, with most of that comprised of families sending video to one another. Less than 1 percent watched carrier broadcast TV, and less than 2 percent watched video via a browser in the U.S. and Europe. Even a pro-mobile TV release from CNN and Ericsson point out that 44 percent of people are poised to use mobile TV, begging the question of how many people don’t care or already have it. Of those that do have it, a scant 24 percent tune in daily.

Standards wars in the U.S. and Europe have stymied efforts to deliver broadcast TV over mobile phones, as have the reluctance of carriers to open up their networks to such high-bandwidth traffic. Notably, however, Orange and T-Mobile said Tuesday that they plan to deploy a mobile video service, even after BT and Virgin Mobile’s efforts a year earlier had failed.

In the U.S., Qualcomm’s MediaFlo standard has pulled ahead of a rival DVB-H standard pushed by Modeo, but the service has so far only launched on a few Verizon handsets. Without a ton of handsets able to receive the signals, Verizon can’t widely market the service. But without a lot of demand, Verizon can’t really push for more MediaFlo-enabled handsets. AT&T is the only other carrier trying to sell a TV service right now, but its MedioFlo deployment, expected late last year, has stalled.

And let’s face it, watching mobile TV through a browser isn’t so hot, either. Sites such as YouTube Mobile can be watched on any phone that can access the Internet, but are limited in their content. Other players include startups like Treemo and TinyTube, as well as mywaves, which was declared the best mobile video service at the Mobile World Congress, beating out MTV and Sony Pictures.