Do People Really Watch TV on Their Phones?

A lot of reports and white papers say people are watching TV on their phones and that mobile video is a key requirement of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) Services. I’m not so sure..

According to Juniper Research (requires signup) 240m smartphone users will stream TV by 2014 with consumers swapping out their television sets for mobile devices. I’ve worked on an IPTV strategy and delivery project and from anecdotal evidence it is taken as read that people, younger users particularly, regularly use their phones for watching TV and this trend is set to increase.

So why am I unsure? Well let’s look at the experience of viewing TV on your phone. Although there are services that allow you to download content to your laptop, the IPTV services for mobile are live streaming which means you better have a reliable WiFi connection with a low contention ratio, i.e. not too many others downloading stuff in the same cafe, if you don’t want buffering interruptions. 3G or, coming soon 4G? Try using this on a packed train (high contention ratio) as you move from mobile cell mast to the next. Despite the promises it doesn’t actually work. If you have a good WiFi service at home you could easily use it there. But if you have a smart TV at home you would probably watch that instead.

But what about the research that says it’s a growing area. Firstly, it’s a new area so of course it’s growing but predicting long term behaviour from a short trend is a risky business. Secondly, people don’t always tell the truth in surveys. Thirdly, just because someone downloaded an app like Netflix, doesn’t mean they use it.

Screen Size

Lets take the three key areas of TV content: sport; entertainment; and movies. If you were looking for latest results you might watch football on your phone but it’s unlikely that many would deliberately plan to watch the Wimbledon Final on a phone. Entertainment is the key area for mobile but more for watching clips than entire episodes or series. Finally, people who watch movies on a mobile phone obviously don’t like movies.

It’s not new

Since 1982 you could pick up a handheld device to watch TV and by the ’90s it cost less than a hundred quid. It picked up the national broadcast signals so it worked anywhere regular TV worked, there were no contention ratio issues and there was no such thing as buffering. However, nobody really liked watching TV on a small screen and Sony discontinued their Watchman in 2000. Technology changes, people don’t.*

Mobile, not mobile phone

Mobile screens are getting larger, just look at the new iPhone and Samsungs, which are great for clips but they’re still unsuitable for watching a movie. There is a sweet spot – the tablet. It’s big enough for viewing but still easily portable and when services allow for local storage you will be able to watch your content without on the plane or train without the need for WiFi.

*In the short term people don’t change – this is not a refutation of evolution.

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