MANILA, JULY 31, 2007
 (STAR) By Alma Buelva - Digital Mobile TV, touted as the “next big thing” for mobile phones, has become officially available beginning this week to Smart subscribers who happen to have the right handset to access this newfangled service and, probably, a serious desire to kill boredom by watching TV on the fly.

Called myTV, it’s the country’s first commercial Mobile TV service made possible by a partnership between wireless operator Smart Communications and broadcast service provider 360media Corp.

With a Mobile TV-capable handset like the Nokia N92, Smart subscribers can watch on myTV 24 hours of programming from 10 initial channels. These are CNN, MTV Philippines, Cartoon Network, National Geographic Channel, Pinoy Box Office, The History Channel, Solar Sports, Basketball TV, ETC and Jack TV. A channel for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) will also be added in time for the games’ next season.

Initial areas with myTV coverage include Mega Manila, Cebu, Davao, Tagaytay, Batangas, Baguio, Boracay, and Cagayan de Oro. Also, myTV programming is available for free until Aug. 31, after which it becomes an additional charge on top of the regular postpaid airtime plans. Prepaid subscribers, on the other hand, need only maintain P1 airtime load on top of the P488 monthly myTV package to avail themselves of the service.

At a press conference to launch myTV, Napoleon Nazareno, Smart president and CEO, says Filipinos’ sedentary TV viewing experience is about to be unchained by myTV which, he adds, demonstrates how telecommunications and media together can bring new and exciting services.

Too much TV

A quick way to determine the potential success of Mobile TV in the country is to look at the current number of mobile phone subscribers and the average TV viewing habits of Filipinos.

Latest statistics estimate the number of households in the Philippines to be around 14 million, of which almost 10 million have TV sets. A study by AGB Nielsen Media Research Center reveals that in 2006, Mega Manila residents spent an average of 3.7 hours a day watching TV. Even more serious couch potatoes are in Luzon where residents watch TV at an average of 7.5 hours a day, the study shows. In Mindanao and the Visayas, at least 7.3 hours and 6.7 hours, respectively, of daily TV viewing time were recorded.

Danilo Mojica, head of Smart’s Wireless Consumer Division, estimates that of the company’s 27 million subscribers to date, between 60,000 and 70,000 are expected to try out myTV over the next few months.

Because the technology allows for anytime, anywhere TV viewing, Filipinos can now further lengthen their average TV viewing hours and consume more content, only this time part of it will be spent watching on a Mobile TV-capable phone and not just on a regular TV set.

Smart’s myTV broadcasts using the Mobile TV platform called Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H).

“MyTV is about a (positive) disruptive change that would revolutionize the Philippine TV (landscape). It brings together two most pervasive appliances: the mobile phone and the television,” says 360media president and CEO Orlando Vea.

Whether Mobile TV spells the beginning of an end for the good old set-top box, Vea qualifies that myTV is not out to replace anything. Not even Smart’s video streaming service which will continue, Nazareno adds.

“If you miss a show on TV or on myTV you can still use Smart’s 3G video service and pull clips of that program. The two services will be treated as complimentary,” Vea explains.

A study in real world

In 2005, Nokia’s Research Center in Finland did a qualitative study on Mobile TV usage, specifically in Seoul, South Korea where there was already a commercial live Mobile TV service at that time. The study identified four primary contexts of use: at home, during the evening commute, during micro and macro breaks, and secret use. The last one is typically carried out in places where watching TV is not socially acceptable such as in the classroom, library and boardrooms.

The Nokia research team also noted the “cool factor” of being the first to use Mobile TV that drew many in Seoul to the service. In addition, their research revealed that shared watching of Mobile TV content and lending the device to family and friends were also among the early drivers to Mobile TV penetration.

Raymund Miranda, 360media managing director for Mobile TV, says that while myTV is a new medium ideal for personal entertainment, they also know for a fact that many would want to enjoy it in a shared setting.

“MyTV is a personal experience but research shows that 40 percent use it in a shared environment,” Miranda says, adding that their choice of programming for myTV has been based on research studies that gave them an idea on what roadmap to have for content.

“Also, with Mobile TV there’s no more primetime viewing,” Miranda continues. “What is primetime now when you can watch anytime, anywhere?”

At its early stage, Mobile TV will be accessed by people more for it being the next thing to have rather than for the quality of available content, according to the Nokia research team that conducted the user survey in Seoul. As the service matures, Mobile TV will require both popular content from other medium and content generated specifically for this service, the study suggests.

Mojica confirms that both Smart and 360media are moving toward this direction by starting out first with the development of a base content with a specific number of channels but will eventually add “a la carte” content as the service ramps up in the next few years.

Commercial discussions with TV network giants and other possible content providers are ongoing, but executives from both companies didn’t offer any specific details on what compelling content they want to have, who will pay who for the airing of content and advertisements or how advertising revenues will be shared.

“We are just on Stage 1 so we are still studying what other channels and content we can use while looking at possibly creating our own,” Miranda says.

Barriers and opportunities

Nokia’s qualitative study found that barriers to Mobile TV adoption include the handset’s battery life and screen size, the lack of compelling content, poor service coverage and design implications. Cultural differences can also make or break Mobile TV. The study notes that in countries like the US where people are more likely to have a TV set in the bedroom and drive alone in their cars, the opportunity to watch Mobile TV will be considerably less than in countries where most people watch TV in their living room with family members and, more often than not, take the public transport.

At the presscon, executives say they have made the network infrastructure support for myTV 100 percent reliable, backed by the $50 million that 360media has invested in the project in the next three years. On top of this, Nazareno says Smart also made investments to cover the service’s operations, specifically for billing, maintenance and servicing.

Revenues from myTV will also be registered at Smart’s side “because they will be our subscribers,” Nazareno says.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out whether myTV will appeal to the cellphone-fanatic Filipinos, many of whom also love their TV. If the Nokia study is right in suggesting that watching Mobile TV is considered by early adopters as a non-exclusive activity, then it might just have found the right set of users among the very sociable Filipinos.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved