March 2, 2007
Verizon just started long-awaited mobile TV service based on MediaFLO technology. I have been curiously watching so-called "One-seg" service, a rather strange mobile TV phenomenon in Japan, and would like to point out a few observation that might help to predict how MediaFLO will pan out in the U.S.
"One-seg", short of "one-segment", means that it is one of the 13 segments of digital broadcast spectrum, and that this one-seg is dedicated to mobile use. The service started in April 2006. It uses a separate radio spectrum (UHF band) from cell phone conversation, and in that sense is similar to MediaFLO, but has a very different business model; the service is run by broadcasters on ad-supported basis (=free), and therefore there is no revenue stream to mobile carriers, unless users press the links to data communication that appear on the screen. I called it "strange phenomenon", because nobody makes money (broadcasters currently don't get additional payment from advertisers for One-Seg broadcast, either) but the service is going on, anyway.
Aside from such differences, consumers' behavior and expectation probably are not so much different between the both sides of the Pacific, so I have looked at some consumer surveys in Japan.
Many of the publicly available data are from the period when the service was still young (spring-summer 2006), and we have to be careful about it. There are some contradicting reports, but one thing that is almost uniform in all the surveys and matches to my own observation as well is that the main users belong to "35+" generation. People give me two kinds of explanation; one is that the one-seg handsets are expensive, and young people cannot afford it, and the other is that young people don't watch TV anyway and naturally are not interested in One-Seg either. I think the truth is the combination of both. Now after almost one-year after the release, One-Seg handset prices are coming down, and I am waiting to see some new statistics to come out.
Another interesting thing is that how actually consumers use it. You would think that they watch One-Seg on commuter trains or while waiting at the meeting point, to check the baseball games or their favorite show. While some surveys show that is the case, others says that the majority of use occurs in the users' home, rather than outside. Kids occupy home TV with video games, or wives are glued to melodramas with their favorite Korean star (that Korean heartthrob boom is dying off now, thogh), while daddies have no other place than his own bed to watch the ball game on his own teeny little screen. It is hard to determine which is the "majority" from the existing numbers, but I can easily see those poor daddies really exist in large numbers.
I cannot really determine if "One-Seg" service is successful or not, because the only hard number we can publicly obtain is the number of One-Seg enabled handset shipment. While the shipment number is steadily climbing, both TV broadcasters and mobile carriers are rather quiet, and I hear only complaints from those providers. But they keep selling those handsets, and it is rather strange to me.