As commercial mobile TV and IPTV services are rolled out around the world, it is becoming clear that telecom operators hold some winning cards: in particular, the ability to deliver truly interactive and personalised TV services without the need to invest in brand new networks. Per Nordlöf and Anders Kälvemark fill in the picture
As TV enters fixed and mobile telecom networks, user behaviour is evolving from a ‘lean back’ approach to a ‘lean forward’ one in which consumers want greater control over what to watch, how to watch, and when to watch it. Consumers are getting used to personalising, controlling and interacting with content, services and brands. At the same time, there is greater availability of high-capacity fixed and mobile broadband connections, and content is increasingly available in digital format – making it easier to store and distribute over fixed and mobile IP-based networks.
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The generations that are growing up with sites like YouTube, Google Video and other user-generated content sites will want to do more than just watching traditional 'linear' broadcast TV. In the USA, 20 per cent of TV viewers now surf the web at the same time as they watch TV, for example.
TV of the future will be about giving users access to their favourite programmes and content, wherever they are, whenever they want and whatever device they are using.
As TV moves from traditional one-way (broadcast) distribution towards digital two-way networks, it is undergoing a fundamental change. The addition of a return channel makes the TV experience more interactive and personal; less passive and more active.
Mobile TV over cellular sets the pace
The good news for telecom operators is that mobile and IPTV services can already benefit from the built-in return channel. They enable users to enjoy interactive, personalised TV services wherever they go – whether mobile TV on the go or IPTV in the home.
Out of the 120 mobile TV services that have launched worldwide to date, more than 100 are distributed over existing cellular networks. And there are already more than 10 million regular viewers of mobile TV in developed markets – around four per cent of mobile subscribers.
A recent study conducted by Ericsson ConsumerLab among more than 700 mobile TV users in six countries (France, Italy, Japan, Korea, the UK and the USA) shows that there is strong and growing interest in the services. These people claim to watch an average of around 100 minutes of TV on their mobiles every week. Around two-fifths of those surveyed say they watch mobile TV every day, with viewing situations spread fairly evenly between commuting, during breaks, waiting for someone while out, at home and anywhere when there is a big event on (such as a major sporting event). The most popular time for mobile TV viewing is between 6pm and 10pm – today's prime time for normal TV.
More than half of consumers in the study pay a monthly subscription for mobile TV, or have it as a part of their monthly subscription, and around one-third do not pay anything for mobile TV. On average, consumers pay 14 euros per month for mobile TV, although there were large variations between markets. Interestingly, the payment option does not seem to have any effect on usage – perhaps indicating that users are more willing to pay for worthwhile content.
The study found that mobile users value different types of mobile TV content in different situations. Commuters looking to fill some time want 'light' content that allows for frequent disturbances – to enable them to get on and off public transport, negotiate crowds of people, listen to station announcements, and so on. Such disturbances should not cause the user to miss too much plot or content.
People typically tend to relax at certain times of the day, and mobile TV content should be designed to fit into this pattern of behaviour. For example, the Ericsson ConsumerLab study found that people will watch weightier content early on in the day – on the way to work, for example – when they may want to check the day's business and technology news. This is also true of people who commute long distances and so have time to concentrate on more demanding content.
The enthusiasm of those taking part in the study is echoed in real-world trials of interactive mobile TV services conducted by Ericsson and Norwegian state broadcaster NRK since 2005. Two-fifths of those who downloaded the mobile TV client used it every day – around four times a day on average. One of the most interesting findings is that average session times for users who have access to interactive features are typically double those of viewers watching standard programming.
One new aspect of the NRK–Ericsson collaboration is the world's first trial of interactive, personalised advertising, started in December 2006. The advertisements are interactive, customised to ensure their relevance to individual users, and tailored to the user's age, gender, location and personal interests. Without any marketing, around 200 consumers downloaded an easy-to-use client that enables them to receive personalised mobile TV advertising in return for free TV shows, radio channels and other content on their mobiles (users still pay for the connection). As at January 2007, the trial has shown that clicking on ads increases average session time from around two-and-a-half minutes to over six minutes, and the average click-through rate is 16 per cent. The most popular driver of click-throughs is the offer of free ringtones.
The results of such studies and trials are encouraging, but the key question for operators now is, what is the best way forward for operators to meet the demands of a mobile TV mass market?
More interactive, more personal
Mobile TV is much more than traditional TV delivered to a small screen. In addition to being able to view content wherever they go – with a combination of linear TV, on-demand TV and Podcast TV – users have access to easy-to-use programme guides, fast channel switching, interactivity and personalisation features.
Users have greater freedom in where and when to watch. They can use personalisation features to get a notification when their favourite team has scored and then get the video clip and goal summary pushed to their device. They can interact with friends and other communities, for example through commenting on or voting for their favourite contestant in a TV talent show. Mobile TV clients are available as downloadable client software, which offers consumers a convenient way to access the service, change programmes using the keypads or a menu, and get a programme overview through an electronic programme guide.
For operators, interactivity opens up new revenue streams possibilities, for example through premium SMS when voting.
Personalisation is valued by users. With mobile TV delivered by cellular networks, consumers can personalise their own TV programme portfolio according to their preferences. Based on their video-on-demand consumption history, a recommendation engine can offer a tailored programme schedule. Content can also be provided based on location or TV advertising region.
Ericsson ConsumerLab's study found consumers have clear views about where and when advertising is acceptable. Ideally, ads should be placed before or preferably after a programme – not included as a break in the middle. The length of the ads also needs to be balanced: users have a limited amount of time available when watching mobile TV, and they do not want this time eaten into by long ads. The length of the ad must be in proportion to the length of the programme so, for example after a weather forecast, they would be happy to see a short sponsor's message, while during a longer TV serial episode they would accept a slightly longer ad before, and maybe one after.
What is clear is that a well-functioning and robust service, with great choice of content, is a must for continued mobile TV usage. The study found that features that enable users to take control over their mobile TV viewing would be very popular. For example, the ability to pause and play, rewind and fast forward, and record content would be well appreciated. Consumers are also interested in making their mobile TV watching more flexible and would like to be able to use the mobile phone as a portable media controller.
Mobile TV services via cellular network open up new business models and revenue streams for the operator – for example, through targeted advertising and add-on sales. The vision is one of networked media delivered over three different screen types – TV, computer and mobile phone – enabled by IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).
To enable such seamless, converged service offerings for a mass market, removal of usage restrictions is key. If we want to enable any TV to interconnect with any mobile device or any computer – to be able to view content in the most appropriate way at any given time (TV screen in the living-room; mobile phone when waiting for a bus) – we need to have industry-wide agreement on how these different devices will share content.
Mobile TV and IPTV solutions must meet very high requirements on scalability and performance. The telecoms industry is used to talking about five nines availability: TV services must meet at least the same requirements – just imagine the consequences of large events, perhaps sponsored by major international brands, being interrupted by technical difficulties.
The telecoms industry, with its well-established commitment to global standards and high quality of service is well placed to address these requirements. Interactive, personalised TV should be part and parcel of fixed–mobile convergence and full-service broadband, underpinned by IMS and other open international standards.
Mobile cellular networks already have, by default, both down- and up-link communication abilities in the network, and so are ready to offer interactive, personalised mobile TV services. More to the point, existing mobile networks already have more than 2.5 billion customers and global coverage in place, and their capacity is being given a tremendous boost through High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and, in the future, Long Term Evolution (LTE).
Today, mobile TV services are delivered over cellular networks using unicast streaming technology. Data packets are transmitted from a single source to a single destination, for example from a content server to a mobile device.
There is more than enough capacity in 3G networks to scale up for mass-market mobile TV services, especially if the operator has deployed HSPA. HSPA provides several capacity increase steps, enabling more users to be served with a greater diversity and higher quality of mobile TV content. LTE moves mobile capacity up to another level: Ericsson recently demonstrated speeds of 144Mbit/s in a live network using LTE.
Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS) will enable broadcasting over 3G networks by allowing traffic channels to be shared by all users that are simultaneously watching the same programme in the same area. MBMS complements HSPA to support higher loads in dense areas and ensure efficient network utilisation (as shown in Figure 1)
Figure 1. Mobile cellular networks can meet mobile TV capacity needs today and tomorrow
By using a combination of unicast and broadcast, network capacity and investments can be optimised. Broadcast bearers can be used for the most popular programmes, and an unlimited number of additional programmes and on-demand content can continue to be delivered efficiently using unicast. In the combined unicast–broadcast scenario, the user will not notice any difference in how content is delivered. The user will have a single user interface (TV client) in the terminal to access all content. This combination unicast and broadcast provides the best way to meet personalisation and mass market.
One glimpse of how converged TV services will work is being provided by a joint project between Endemol, Ericsson Netherlands and Triple-IT. The companies are creating a service that enables subscribers to interact with TV shows – for example, by sending in live news reports or comments from their mobile phones – in real-time, even from overseas.
The opportunity for telecom operators to create unique interactive, personalised mobile TV services is there – all that's needed now is for the right technology choices to be made.
Per Nordlöf is Product Strategy Director at Ericsson, and Anders Kälvemark is Senior Consultant at Ericsson ConsumerLab