Cyriac Roeding, executive vice president of CBS Mobile, said a year ago that "a key opportunity for mobile television will be interactivity."
The continuous evolution of the world of mobile television makes Roeding's claim a reality; mobile TV users will have, in the very short term, the opportunity to interact with multimedia services in a way unthinkable a few years ago.
Mobile TV service providers have already identified some interesting opportunities for interactivity. For example, the possibility of voting for a certain participant of a reality show or actively intervening in a contest program to win prizes. For sports fans, interactivity can mean fishing the end of a game while getting back to work or viewing statistics in real time.
Finally, users will be able to enjoy all these advantages without losing the possibility to jump, again and again, between the experience of mobile television and other features of a mobile device such as listening to music, choosing ringtones, listening to radio, downloading videos and others.
For some Flo Forum members, such as Roundbox, PacketVideo and others, these types of functionality and interactivity are about to become a commercial reality.
Services synchronized with datacasting
Interactive television programming has long been a vision for the television industry, both for broadcasters and cable operators. Early business models provided for the possibility for audiences to vote or give feedback through phone calls, SMS messages from their cell phones or from the Internet. These are "out-of-band" methods for interactive services, through which the user had to use another device, other than the TV, to provide feedback. With the migration of television services to cell phones, the opportunity opens up to merge both services into a single device.
Rounbox began partnering with TV Guide Mobile Entertainment in December 2006 to offer an Electronic Service Guide (ESG). Doug Dominiak, Product Manager at Roundbox, describes ESG in the following terms: "It offers users a starter platform to access multimedia services quickly and intuitively on any mobile device. At the heart of mobile TV service, there is an ESG that offers numerous opportunities for the subscriber to become an active participant in content services. For example, subscribers can dial their favorite channels, set alarms for certain shows, or receive program recommendations based on their preferences. ESG also offers an additional source of revenue for the provider, as it allows advertising banners that involve more exposure to users."
ESG serves as a starting point for interactive mobile TV services. Through the integration of Roundbox's mobile datacast solution and TV Guide's mobile ESG, a whole host of new interactive services can be achieved.
An interactive experience for real-time mobile TV users can be achieved through synchronized interactivity, where datacast content is synchronized with mobile TV content. Jon Schlegel, datacast product manager, at Roundbox, offers the following examples: "A user who is watching 'The Apprentice' is asked to vote for the participant who should be expelled at the end of the program. The results of the vote are transmitted to all subscribers in real time, allowing them to see how the luck of the participants changes throughout the program. Subscribers can even play in knowledge contests such as "Who knows more than a schoolchild?" or constantly check the synchronized statistics of an on-air sporting event."
In addition, it is possible to use datacasting to allow interactivity around certain specific programs, even when these programs are not on the air. Operators can use datacasting to offer thematic portals on the subscriber's device with content about certain programs. For example, if a user likes 'The Real World', on MTV, they could also be subscribed to the thematic portal of the program. Such a portal would remain available even without the show airing, and would allow you to watch behind-the-scenes clips, trailers for future episodes, biographies of casting members, etc. The content on the portal would be refreshed by datacasts and cached on the mobile device, thus being instantly available to the subscriber.
Finally, datacasting services allow interactivity, even if it is not designed for a specific program. Datacasting apps provide operators with an excellent opportunity to extend the reach of content brands from mobile TV to datacasting services. An operator can offer a radio application by datacasting in conjunction with an MTV-like video channel, as part of a music content package. An interactive soccer game packaged with ESPN mobile services can also be offered. This type of value-added services allows the extension of television brands beyond the television experience itself, in order to attract a larger audience and improved exposure.
Schlegel believes that by enabling interactivity, operators are allowed to deliver a more captivating mobile TV experience, which will ultimately help them increase revenue and retain customers. He continues: "Through offline interactivity, operators can extend the reach of their mobile TV services beyond basic TV services and leverage TV content brands to also stimulate the use of data services."
As Roundbox looks for new ways to make the mobile TV experience more interactive, PacketVideo, another Flo Forum member, is trying to ensure that subscribers enjoy the other benefits of their mobile device.
Gretchen Griswold, vice president of marketing at PacketVideo, notes that many subscribers are driven away by the complexity of some mobile devices. "For users," she says, "navigating between multiple multimedia applications can be frustrating; many times they give up before they reach the front door of what they are looking for." PacketVideo's MediaFusion was developed to address this issue.
MediaFusion is a platform developed to integrate media services into a single user interface, so that a person can access Flo's live TV from an ESG that also displays locally stored content, on-demand content, etc.
MediaFusion is also a smart application that learns the user's usual preferences and behaviors. Through this customization, MediaFusion adapts the characteristics of the applications – such as the songs of a favorite genre or a certain artist. The more you use the storefrort, the more focused it becomes. The result is that the individual receives a more personalized experience. The benefit for the mobile operator is that the user takes advantage of more services while discovering new content.
The mobile TV part of MediaFusion also benefits from this degree of interactivity. MediaFusion integrates video on demand and live TELEVISION, whether in unicast or broadcast form, into a single ESG and player. This allows users to filter through content by TV channel or genre, depending on the content available. From there, users can create their own custom channel, adding the shows or channels to their favorites list. Again, the more the individual records, the more personalized the experience becomes.
To take the interactive experience even further, the user can request promotional alerts via SMS or emails. Based on usage patterns and flagged favorites, individuals will receive information about television appearances by their favorite actors, biographies, news, and alerts about preferred artists or bands. This provides an additional source of income for the operator, by providing a highly personalized service to the customer, who will be less inclined to use services from another operator in the future.
As the content offering grows, reducing user churn is key for operators, as they seek not only to welcome them at the front door but also to prevent them from leaving through the back door. In parallel with the growth in demand for mobile TV services, consumer expectations for more personalized and interactive experiences with their service provider will also grow.
The examples provided by Roundbox and PacketVideo illustrate how companies belonging to the Flo Forum seek to meet this demand by offering pre-active and intelligently interactive services that benefit sophisticated consumers, the operator and the content provider.
By providing dynamic interactive and personal experiences that capture users, and by offering a wide range of opportunities for continuous interactivity, interactivity is about to become a central element in the world of mobile television.
Taken and translated with permission from Flo Focus, issue 7, April 2008.
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Flo Forum is an organization that brings together network operators, equipment manufacturers and content providers to promote the development of Flo-based networks as well as advanced mobile multimedia products and services.
MediaFlo is a technological standard for multimedia services for mobile devices.
On September 25, as part of our seminar "DTV (almost) stress-free", Kamil Grajski, president of the Flo Forum, will give a lecture on "Technologies for mobile television".
For more information about the event see www.tvyvideo.com/seminarios/DTV.