The closure last month of the $150m (£80.3m) Disney ESPN mobile service after less than a year sent shock waves across the mobile industry. If a company with the scale and reach of Walt Disney can’t make its mobile service succeed, particularly after such significant investment, does it spell the end for broadcasters’ attempts to expand into the mobile space? The short answer to this question is no. In the UK, mobile phones have become ubiquitous and for the first time we have a generation of teenagers and young adults who have grown up with them, and they expect much more than just phone calls and texts.
Because the mobile phone is such a personal device, when used effectively it provides a powerful tool to strengthen the relationship between broadcaster and viewer. However, it is not enough to work purely on the technological limitations of the platform – mobiles will never replace linear TV viewing but used effectively can complement broadcasters’ television and internet offerings.
To be successful mobile needs to provide services that leverage the unique selling points of the platform. Mobile phones offer a way of providing information to viewers in real-time, giving users content they want whenever they want it. Popular TV entertainment brands provide a massive opportunity on mobile as they can fulfil the demand for immediate information and the opportunity for tailored mobile video clips. During Big Brother 7, for example, over 1.5 million video clips were downloaded to 3G handsets.
However, fantastic content only gets you half way there. The BBC failed with its much-hyped "Tardisodes" – one-minute Doctor Who episodes designed specifically for mobile phones – blaming the fact that, although it provided the mobisodes free, most users had to pay a charge to their phone operator. Data charges are confusing and have caused users to become mistrustful of downloading content.
We are working closely with operators and have a strong commitment to mobile, but this isn’t a short-term game. All parties need to balance the need to generate commercial return with the desire to provide ground-breaking, distinctive mobile content and develop a business model that benefits all parties but doesn’t penalise the user.
If we can work together to make the cost of downloading content transparent for users then mobile video can begin to live up to the hype.
Andy Taylor is managing director of Channel 4 New Media