With smartphones and tablets offering larger screens and higher resolutions, mobile television and video services are redefining their role. They can now be seen as part of a multiscreen strategy, appealing to pay-television operators as much as mobile networks. MobiTV has been a pioneer in mobile television for over a decade and now reaches over 14 million subscribers in the United States. Their managing director for Europe spoke exclusively to informitv about their plans for international expansion and their planned application for the Apple iPad.

In the United States, MobiTV is seeing an increasing demand for live sports events. In the last quarter it expects to deliver 1,400 live events, averaging 130 a week, a 13% increase in the number of hours over the previous quarter. In December, MobiTV expects to deliver 400 live specials and around 1,600 hours of live coverage.

The MobiTV AMP or Accelerated Media Platform delivers live news and sports for carrier and content branded applications on AT&T Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks. It employs HTTP delivery over IP networks, and supports encryption for live, on-demand, and locally stored media based on AES and RSA standards.

The apparent success of MobiTV, delivered over existing cellular networks, contrasts with the apparent failure of competition from Qualcomm Flo TV, or the slow adoption of broadcast mobile services based on the ATSC digital television standard.

“Live events are a major driver for the increased adoption of mobile content, whether to phones, tablets or other connected devices,” according to Charlie Nooney, the chief executive of MobiTV.

One of the problems with football on mobile phones has been the difficulty in spotting the ball. The ability to deliver services to larger screens, from smartphones to tablets, is increasing user engagement. MobiTV delivered 100 million minutes of viewing during the month of the World Cup, and viewing times were doubled on tablet devices.

“It’s really clear that screen size matters a lot,” Jan Olin, the MobiTV managing director for Europe explains to informitv. “For us, adding smaller or bigger screens is business as usual.”

Bigger screens and higher resolutions mean more bandwidth, but mobile capacity is increasing, with next-generation networks. “4G is coming on nicely,” he says, “with really good connection speeds.” In theory, 4G can offer more capacity than most fixed-line broadband connections. “In Scandinavia three operators have launched 4G in the major metropolitan areas. At the moment only dongles are available but it is a matter of time before other mobile devices arrive. We don’t think that capacity will be a problem. Tablets very often use WiFi as well which is nice complement in the home.”

So does that start to stretch the definition of mobile television? “Indeed it does,” he observes. “Despite the company name, we feel we’re not just doing mobile television any longer. We’re doing multiscreen TV.”

The concept of mobile television as its own vertical silo, with specific programming, short-form clips and mobisodes, is fast being replaced by the ambition to deliver television everywhere, to every screen, a proposition with particular appeal to consumers. “The trend is toward the same lineup of content, the same premium programming, on mobile devices,” he says. “The mobile TV experience is very much the television experience, wherever it is heading.”

MobiTV is working on a tablet application to submit to Apple for review by end of year. MobiTV is looking to launch an application that will have the same programming line-up across both iPhone and iPad. The availability of the iPad app has been complicated by rights issues, with programming providers wanting to charge more for material that can be viewed on a tablet.

This begs the question, when is a phone not a phone? It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between different devices, formally or legally, and users expect to see the same programming irrespective of screen size.

“This whole debate prompts the question maybe it’s time to reinvent content licensing. Maybe it would make more sense to license content on a per user basis,” observes Jan. “If a user has paid for programming to view on their home television they will probably not want to pay again to watch it on a smaller screen.”

As a result, those best-placed to manage the rights may be pay-television platform operators, rather than mobile network providers, although the latter may want compensation for carrying programming over their infrastructure.

While MobiTV has been largely aligned with mobile network operators in America, the plans for Europe are to offer services in conjunction with pay-television platforms. “A year ago our focus was very much on mobile operators. Now the focus is very much more on pay-TV operators. They’re really, really interested.”

Since pay-television platform operators are in the business of delivering television services, one might assume that extending their offering would a relatively simple matter. Delivering video to a mobile screen is perhaps no longer the technical challenge that it once was.

“It’s still very complex,” suggests Jan. “If you’re talking about a single platform it may be straightforward, but if you want to protect programming on an iPad and Android devices of various screen sizes there are still challenges. We think we have an edge there. We can offer a really quick route to market, with low risk and high performance.”

MobiTV says it is currently in discussions with several pay-television providers in Scandanavia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Jan Olin, the managing director for MobiTV in Europe, was interviewed by William Cooper exclusively for Connected Vision © 2010 informitv.