Friday, February 5, 2010

Ready to pay for TV for your phone? FLO TV thinks you are; implications for mobile media publishers

The last thing I need right now is to add $9.99 (plus tax) to my cell phone bill. Believe me, with two daughters on the plan, the bill is high enough as it is.

But FLO TV thinks you won't mind adding a few bucks more to that bill in order to stream on-demand television programming to the features you already pay for.

In fact, the Qualcomm subsidiary is so sure this is the next wave of TV that they are spending a fortune on advertising on Sunday. Three new ads will air during the Super Bowl.

According to an article last year in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Qualcomm has already spent $800 million dollars to launch FLO TV, even before Sunday's splurge. The service promises to deliver TV content to your phone, as well as screens installed into automobiles, as well as other mobile devices.

The catch, of course, is that monthly subscription fee. Smart phone users already pay a monthly data plan fee, and Apple's new iPad has been criticized for the fact that it would require yet another data plan if the user wants to use its 3G capabilities. Now, if you really must watch the Simpsons while at the airport suffering from another airline delay, you will have to have another monthly fee, as well.

“We are uniting our vision of advancing mobile TV across a range of devices and platforms with mophie’s unrivaled expertise in designing intelligent cases for Apple users,” said Bill Stone, president of FLO TV.  “Together, our solution will be a true live mobile TV product available to iPhone and iPod touch users," the company said in a release. 

In an ironic bit of timing, AT&T announced that Sling Media will be able to begin using its 3G network to stream free television to iPhone users who also own one of the company's Sling Box products.

In the case of Sling Media, the device, which comes in several models, is an upfront expenditure of between $100 and $300 for the consumer who plugs the device into their cable box and then streams tv to their computers via a broadband internet connection.  Recently Sling Media introduced a free iPhone app that allows cell phone users to stream the content directly to their iPhones over WiFi -- and now 3G, as well.  There are no additional costs beyond the price of the box, and, of course, your monthly cable or satellite TV bill.  The device also allows you to stream your DVR and DVD content, as well. (Sling Media, if you are reading this, want to send me a box to review? Can't blame a guy for trying, right?)

Now, finally, what does all this mean for New Media publishers? Anything that transforms mobile devices from being simple communications tools to media consumption devices is good news for mobile media producers.

Not long ago there were voices doubting that cell phone users would be a viable market for media. Now, for example, I listen to radio on my phone (I've trashed my clock radio), check the weather, stocks and heart rate on my phone (all bad news), and watch videos, movies and even (maybe) TV.  Reading your magazine or newspaper on my phone is not an avant garde use of the phone -- it is getting to be old school.