Forget short clips and "mobisodes." Cellphone providers are ramping up their full-episode TV offerings, from Lost to The Office, and even movies.
And the viewing experience on your phone is improving to near-broadcast-quality video (though tiny) that you can watch while waiting for the bus or in between meetings. "I definitely see it growing, especially here in the USA where, let's face it, we Americans like our video," says Forrester Research's Charles Golvin.
Today, only about 7% of mobile subscribers (cell and data) watch video on their phones, he says. But the industry is poised for major growth: Mobile video revenues at domestic carriers jumped to $308 million in the last three months of 2007 from $112 million in the same period a year earlier, according to Nielsen Mobile.
"If the pricing is reasonable, the experience is good and the selection of content is robust enough (and) it really behaves like TV, you're going to see wide adoption," Golvin says.
The latest cell provider to upgrade its television viewing options is AT&T; its live Mobile TV service launches next month with channels from CBS, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central, ESPN, MTV and Nickelodeon. AT&T customers who get one of two new phones capable of receiving the service — the LG Vu and the Samsung Access (no prices yet on phones or subscription costs) — will be able to watch full-length episodes of shows such as Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Entourage and 30 Rock. AT&T Mobile TV users also can tune in to PIX, a new movie channel from Sony Pictures that will air movies such as Bugsy, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and Groundhog Day.
The AT&T/Sony channel is not the first movie-cell connection. Sprint began making movies available on demand in September 2006. Earlier this month, Warner joined Sony, Paramount, Disney and Lionsgate with movies on the provider's network. "Everyone is really, really skeptical about who would want to watch movies on a little cellphone, but we are very pleasantly surprised," says Disney's Ron Schonfeld. "We entered it initially as an experiment, but we're seeing it's a real business."
Asked whether he ever thought he would see TV and movies on cellphones, 22-year industry veteran Mark Collins, vice president of consumer data at AT&T's wireless unit, says, "With networks and content distribution and devices evolving the way they are, and customers' never-ending desire for wireless experiences, nothing surprises me today."
Offerings of simulcasts and specially repackaged TV content began in 2003, when Sprint added MobiTV, a Berkeley, Calif., service then providing a dozen or so channels, including MSNBC. In 2005, Cingular (now AT&T) added the MobiTV service, which has continued to expand, adding the Disney Channel earlier this month. Verizon launched V Cast in 2006 with channels including CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN delivered through Qualcomm's MediaFLO service. It is MediaFLO that AT&T is adding in May.
A recent viewing of Verizon's ESPN channel produced live NBA playoff video of high-enough quality to identify various players, although the scoreboard below the video was hard to read. Action was only a second or so behind the satellite TV broadcast.
Cell providers began offering episodes on demand about a year ago. Sprint's 70 "channels" include streaming video from CBS and other networks, plus more than a dozen shows, such as Desperate Housewives and CSI: New York, with usually the previous four episodes available.
"If you are on your lunch break or if you are sitting in your car waiting for your kid at soccer practice and want to watch a chapter or two, you can do that," says Sprint's Aaron Radelet.
Mobile users are willing to watch for extended periods, says Nielsen Mobile's Nic Covey. Nearly half (47%) say their average session lasts 15 minutes or longer; 25% watch 30 minutes or more.
Says Covey: "Enough consumers watch mobile video for those lengths of time and enough consumers are interested in name-brand programming that this level of mobile viewing could be just as big an opportunity as clips."
Now playing: Top cell providers' TV offerings, plans
Current listings: On-demand full-length episodes from ABC (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Samantha Who?) and CBS (CSI: NY, Numb3rs), Disney (Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Wizards of Waverly Place). Other live and simulcast channels deliver episodes of The Daily Show (Comedy Central), Larry King Live (CNN), CBS Evening News With Katie Couric (CBS), The Hills (MTV), SpongeBob SquarePants (Nickelodeon), Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Cartoon Network), as well as Fox News Live, E! and ABC News Now.
The NFL Network simulcast will provide live coverage of the NFL draft this coming weekend.
Overall, Sprint has more than 70 channels of programming, including Spike, VH1, CMT and GameTrailers; 25 more are available in Spanish (available nationwide).
Also available on demand are movies such as I Am Legend (Warner), Enchanted (Disney), The Italian Job (Paramount), Spider-Man 3 (Sony) and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Lionsgate), streamed in chapters or in their entirety (new releases cost $5.99 for the whole movie, others as low as $3.99).
Cost: Monthly cost for a data plan for on-demand and streamed programming starts at $15 (includes CNN, Disney, Fox Sports, Weather Channel, E! and NFL Network). A $20 plan has 21 more channels; additional channels can be purchased individually for $4.99 monthly.
Current listings: Cellular subscribers can watch full-length episodes of shows such as Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Entourage, The Office and 30 Rock on demand. More full episodes are available on AT&T's MobiTV service (also offered on Sprint and Alltel), including Hannah Montana (Disney Channel), Dirty Jobs (Discovery), Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi) and live NBA, MLB and college basketball games on ESPN Mobile TV; Access Hollywood; MSNBC; Fox News; Discovery Channel; TLC; Weather Channel; Oxygen and more.
AT&T recently offered live footage from the Masters golf tournament to MobiTV subscribers and on-demand content for cellphone users.
On the way: AT&T Mobile TV (58 U.S. markets), launching in May, will have channels with full episodes, including CSI and Two and a Half Men (CBS), The Office and My Name Is Earl (NBC), SpongeBob (Nickelodeon), The Daily Show (Comedy Central), Bones (Fox) and other content on MTV, ESPN and NBCNews2Go.
Also on Mobile TV is a new exclusive-to-AT&T channel, PIX, created by Sony, that will broadcast movies such as Groundhog Day, Memento, Ghostbusters and Philadelphia.
In addition to monthly voice cell plan, $15 for MediaNet unlimited Web and video usage; plus $9.99 for MobiTV. No prices yet on new Mobile TV service.
Current listings: The first of two Verizon video offerings, V Cast Mobile TV (available on select mobile phones in more than 50 markets nationwide) has eight channels from major networks that include some simulcast programming of live events, news and sports, plus simulcasts and reshowings of new full TV episodes. Among them are CSI: NY and Late Show With David Letterman (CBS), Bones and Prison Break (Fox), 30 Rock (NBC), Millionaire Matchmaker (Bravo), The Hills and Real World (MTV), and Dora the Explorer (Nickelodeon).
In addition to those channels from MediaFlo (theservice that AT&T adds next month), Verizon has two others, MTV Tr3s and an ESPN Radio channel.
Verizon's other TV service, V Cast Video On Demand, has full episodes (downloadable in chapters) of 30 Rock and The Office (NBC), Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi), CSI and soaps such as Guiding Light and Bold and the Beautiful (CBS), The Paper (MTV) and Top Chef (Bravo). Also available: clips from TV shows such as Bones (Fox), Lost (ABC), Big Brother, CSI: Miami (CBS), Saturday Night Live (NBC) and Deadliest Catch (Discovery); and "minisodes" from classic TV shows. Other networks with clips include E!, Oxygen, Spike and an Election '08 channel.
Cost: V Cast Mobile TV's monthly cost is $15. V Cast VOD customers can watch all the videos they want for $15 monthly or $3 a day.