Virgin Mobile’s DAB-based mobile TV service will launch to UK consumers on 1st October. It will offer four TV channels, including BBC One, ITV1, Channel 4 and E4. There will also be interactive programming and 50 radio channels.
The service and handset (manufactured by HTC) will be free to customers spending GBP 25 or more on their monthly contract. Pre-paid customers will be charged GBP 5 per month for the service and GBP 199 for the device.
The Virgin launch represents an important test case for broadcast-based mobile TV. Virgin’s approach seems sound: it is using existing DAB infrastructure supplied by BT Movio, enabling it to offer good coverage within a relatively short time-to-market. It is also making the service available free of charge as a way of differentiating its contract service and attracting new customers to balance out its predominantly pre-paid subscriber base. The service will be supported by a substantial marketing investment and made available through Virgin’s extensive retail network.
With all of these elements in place, the real question will be whether users respond positively to the mobile TV user experience. Despite several broadcast trials and the launch of commercial streaming video services by numerous operators, it remains to be seen whether a significant number of customers will actually use TV in the mobile environment.
Viewing any content on the screen of a mobile device represents a very different experience from the typical usage pattern of voice and asynchronous text communication. Video requires continuous viewing and a quiet environment to listen to the sound or a set of headphones. Most users rarely encounter these conditions during the working day, raising fundamental questions about the mass-market viability of mobile TV.