Author: John Farquhar
Publish: 16 September 2010
The Japanese youth started it. When they SMS each other, they like to see who is sending the message. The result: they took to mobile TV like ducks to water. What helped is that the service is free to air in that country. Costs are covered by advertising.
As for the rest of the world, mobile TV is still in the starting blocks. Thus, little is known about the practicalities of the system. Much has been written about the size of the screen, and battery life, and whether movies on the go will be the next big thing. Personally, I believe the jury is still out on this one.
Neverthless, mobile TV will be available in South Africa by 2012. ICSA has granted mobile television licences to MultiChoice and eTV, and judging from their business strategies to date, they will make a determined effort to get South Africans to tune in. Both companies are required to activate their licence within 12 months. Will South Africans take to mobile TV?
South Africa is particularly fond of what I call, 'What if?' research. It attempts to get the inside track on consumer behaviour in the future with something new. This approach rarely works. It is not the gadget alone, it is its utility, the social behaviour of the crowd, and the pressure to belong, that changes behaviour.
Therefore, asking people if they would buy a mobile TV is a waste of time. The marketers can look abroad, but the South African way of life is totally dissimilar to that of Japan. Current usage in Western economies is too small to provide useful clues.
BMI-Technologies nevertheless went ahead and did research. Forty-nine percent of the people interviewed said they would want to watch TV on a mobile, but only 15% said they would pay for the privilege. Multichoice reputedly spent R300 million on a trial run research.
Given the low off-take in the Western world, the mobile TV option involves huge risk. Sport has been mentioned as a possible reason to get involved. But watching sport on your own is no fun. You have to be part of a crowd. If you can't go to the match, you invite your own crowd to your home, or you watch it with mates in a pub. The excitement of sport is not only the play, but the arguing between mates.
Multichoice chief executive, Nolo Letele, believes mobile will take seven years before it grows into a viable business. In a world where technology is moving towards morphing the PC and TV into one unit, will mobile TV get off the ground? There is sport, major news breaks and natural disasters, and seeing a loved one when you phone, but is that enough to make it a must-have?
But you never know. Humans are quite contrary in their behaviour. Sure bets fail, and wild cards often win.