Sharpening The Moving Picture


Mobile video is becoming part of the big picture in the small-screen world. In the past year, the top three U.S. carriers — Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Cingular Wireless — have debuted broadband mobile-video services that offer a mix of television, trailers and Internet video content aimed at attracting more customers and boosting data usage on their next-generation networks.

But while all three share the common goal of attracting more customers and ramping up, their strategies are different.

The latest entry is Cingular Wireless, which earlier this month rolled out its Cingular Video service in the 16 markets where it has its next-generation broadband Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) network up and running. Cingular Video supplies customers with three- to five-minute on-demand video clips from 18 content outlets, including ESPN, Fox Sports, Disney Channel, Home Box Office and Cable News Network, as part of a basic $19.99 monthly unlimited data-usage plan.

It also is offering premium content from HBO Mobile and HBO Family Mobile for an added $4.99 and $2.99 monthly charge, respectively. Plans are to add content from, and Turner Classic Movies to the premium tier in the coming months.


In contrast, Sprint Nextel is taking a tier approach for its Power Vision offering, unveiled in November. Power Vision is sold in three packages, starting with a $15-per-month entry-level service that includes the ABC News Now live-TV channel, a streaming radio channel and unlimited data usage. A $20 package adds live streaming channels from Fox Sports, NFL Network, Fuse, Fuel and Fashion TV. The high-end $25 package loads on TV channels ranging from NBC to ESPN, Discovery Channel and The Weather Channel.

And Verizon Wireless' V Cast is sticking to a flat-rate model for video, offering a lineup of branded content for a $15-per-month subscription. The carrier doesn't release subscriber numbers, but since its Feb. 1, 2005 debut, V Cast has been “a wild success to date, and it actually is trending along our forecasts at the most optimistic levels,” said Ryan Hughes, Verizon Wireless' associate director of multimedia content.


In particular, news, kids' programming and entertainment video have made strong showings on the service. And in contrast to Internet on-demand content, “people, when they initiate the clip, they tend to consume the clips in their entirety,” Hughes said.

“What works is the entertainment content probably the most — celebrity news and gossip news has been a big driver. Comedy has been a big success as well,” he said. “It's that sort of snackable, get-a-quick-laugh content that has been doing well.”

Another area where carriers are divided on strategy has to do with longer-format and live-TV content. While Sprint Nextel is delving into live TV with its SprintTV service, Cingular and Verizon Wireless are taking a different tack.

Cingular does offer live streaming TV on its older Global Packet Radio Service network, through content outlet MobiTV, but for now, it's fielding Cingular Video with on-demand content only. Furthermore, the clips are less than five minutes long, aimed at the user who has a few minutes to kill while standing in line at Starbucks, said Sam Hall, vice president of Cingular's mobile browser and developer program.

“We essentially thought, 'What would you want to do if you had five minutes to kill?' and that was essentially the filter we used, in terms of what types of content we go after and how we produce that content to make sense in a mobile environment,” he said.

As with Cingular, Verizon Wireless is focusing on short-format video, with clips generally no more than five minutes in length.

“People tend to scan the news services pretty extensively, and by offering clips rather than whole shows, it allows people to cut exactly to what they are interested in viewing,” Hughes said. It also reflects the fact that mobile video viewing targets an individual user, so “it's not a sort of, turn the TV on and the whole family sits around it.”

But Verizon Wireless also has plans for longer-format and live TV through its partnership with Qualcomm Inc.'s MediaFLO subsidiary. MediaFLO is building a separate network and using licensed spectrum it has acquired to field a mobile multicast-video service — similar to that of a broadcast-TV service — combining live and on-demand programming. The service could start rollout as early as the fourth quarter this year.

Hughes said the combination of short format clips on V Cast and longer-format content including live TV being developed for MediaFLO will be complementary.

“We are working closely with the MediaFLO programming team in order to deliver the best experience that we think we can within a very complex television rights environment,” he said. “What we are doing is working with each of the content providers to work on a mix of long- and short-form content.”

Adding live, streaming TV is also a possibility for Cingular, either through boosting MobiTV to the UMTS service or tapping alternatives such as MediaFLO and Crown Castle International's Modeo mobile video network.

“We know that some things from the existing, sit-on-my-couch-and-watch-TV world will work, and some things will have to be specially made for the mobile phone,” Hall said. “We're trying to find the right mix that we can bring to customers on this.”