The BBC is to make a wide range of its television and radio networks available on mobile phones. A one-year trial starting in April will allow subscribers to the television packages of network operators 3, Orange and Vodafone to watch live television and listen to most national radio networks on their mobile handsets.
Subscribers with 3G phones will be able to watch BBC One, BBC Three and BBC News 24, with the exception of some sport and acquired programmes for which mobile rights have not been obtained. They will also be able to listen to Radio 1, 1Xtra, Radio 2, Radio 3, 4, 6, BBC 7 and Asian Network.
The mobile networks in the United Kingdom already offer some commercial television channels as part of their subscription services. Sky has signed up around 230,000 mobile viewers out of more than 8 million subscribers since launching its mobile television service at the end of 2005. However, Virgin Mobile has apparently only signed up 10,000 customers since it launched in October 2006. It offers a range of channels, including BBC One, broadcast over a digital radio network with a service from BT Movio.
The BBC trial was announced at the Broadcast Mobile TV Congress in London. Ashley Highfield, the director of future media and technology at the BBC, said that it would test not only the effectiveness of 3G networks as a means of distribution but also how audiences respond to such services on their mobiles. The BBC will be undertaking extensive research into consumer behaviour and experience throughout the trial. “The findings, combined with quantitative and qualitative consumer research, will inform the BBC’s future mobile strategy,” he said.
“The mobile platform is a great opportunity for us to reach existing users in a new way and connect better with people who are not currently big users of the BBC,” said Richard Halton, controller of business strategy at the BBC. “The BBC believes that mobile content is an important part of the broadcasting landscape and is looking at ways in which mobile devices will shape services of the future for licence fee payers.”
There is much debate about the attraction of live television services on mobile handsets, the ability of mobile networks to stream such services to large numbers of users and the consequent cost to consumers. Current 3G networks require an additional stream for each simultaneous viewer, but in the future it may be possible to make more efficient use of networks using multicasting. However, some advocate the need for separate broadcast networks, using technologies such as DVB-H or MediaFLO to deliver live channels.
The BBC has also launched an enhanced web service for users with mobile phones with web browsers. Mobile usage of the BBC web site has grown 100% a year over the last three years, generating over 84 million page views in January 2007.