Mobile TV: Better Options Coming Soon
For many consumers, Netflix and Hulu are the go-to places to watch video on a computer. When will we be able to get those services on our mobile devices?
Netflix was quick to push out a streaming video app for the iPad, and the app has been very popular; but the company is reticent about releasing an app that puts its Watch Instantly service on the iPhone--or on any other phone.
So far this year, the company has sent mixed messages about its interest in mobile video. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told investors on January 29, “We haven’t yet done or submitted an iPhone application,” he said. "It is not a huge priority for us because we are so focused on the larger screen."
But on April 2, the day Netflix announced its iPad app, the company's communications VP Steve Swasey wrote on the company blog: "For those of you asking whether Netflix will be on the iPhone and iPod Touch: We wouldn't invite you to dinner without planning to serve dessert. In other words, we're working on it so stay tuned."
A Netflix app for the iPhone is likely to appear in the next few months. Let's hope that we see a similar version for Android devices and other advanced mobile devices (such as e-book readers) soon afterward.
Hulu fans have been clamoring for a mobile app for about a year now. But no app has appeared yet, and Hulu’s mobile intentions have been tough to read.
Just prior to the launch of the iPad, when speculation about a Hulu iPad app was running high, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar told GigaOm's Om Malik, “Mobile will always be like a snack channel but never will become the major [revenue] share of our business.” Okay then.
Still, people continue to ask Hulu executives about mobile constantly, so the company's management team is certainly aware of the large and growing desire among consumers for mobile TV; and Hulu execs always speak in painfully vague terms about how excited they are about mobile.
It seems highly probable that Hulu will show up on mobile devices at some point and in some fashion. Because Hulu runs on Flash, the company might embrace Android phones, which run Flash.
Hulu might also develop a Flash workaround for the iPhone and the iPad. Doing so, however, might mean transcoding Hulu content to run in QuickTime, which would take time and cost money. In fact, that process might be going on right now and might be causing the delay.
The New York Times reported a few weeks ago that Hulu is indeed working on an iPad app. Other media sources have reported that a Hulu iPhone app is in development. If any of these rumored activities turn out to be true, versions of the app for other mobile platforms may soon appear.
Boxee has emerged as a popular digital video manager for home use, but the name is mentioned less often in a mobile context. Until now. People love Boxee because its free, open-source software brings all kinds of Internet video to the big TV in the living room, and simplifies the task of searching for new stuff to watch. Similar design expertise would be welcome on small mobile screens, on which organizing video titles is a real challenge.
A recent job posting on the Boxee Website indicates that the New York company is looking for an iPad and iPhone app developer to become the first member of Boxee's new mobile applications team.
The job posting also notes "Android development experience a plus"--suggesting that Boxee’s mobile aspirations don’t begin and end with the iPhone. According to the Los Angeles Times, Boxee plans to go directly to the networks for content, instead of just aggregating it.
Boxee previously developed an app that lets users control the Boxee system from an iPhone. But that’s simple stuff compared to making the content on a Boxee box searchable and viewable on the small screen. Based on what we’ve seen of Boxee’s design chops, though, the company is probably up to the task.
Like Boxee, AT&T started out with a DVR mobile remote-control app, and it is now working on a full-blown video app to stream U-Verse video (via Wi-Fi only, AT&T says) to iPhones and other devices. Microsoft Mediaroom 2.0, the IPTV software behind U-Verse, is already capable of performing this trick, and it may be able to stream U-Verse TV even more elegantly to a Windows Phone 7 phone.
At the CTIA show, AT&T gave a demo of the U-Verse mobile app, using an iPhone. The presenter accessed a sharp-looking U-Verse programming guide, and then selected a video and played it on the phone. Everything looked very simple and straightforward, with DVR programming functions flowing neatly into the content search and streaming controls.
The video itself looked nice enough during the demo, but how consistently the system can deliver video at high quality to millions of mobile devices remains to be seen. AT&T says that the new app will debut in the Apple App Store later this year. The service will probably cost around $10 per month.
Pearl Mobile DTV Company
The conversation about including live and local content in streaming services is just getting off the ground, and broadcasters are taking action. A group of local television station conglomerates have banded together in a joint venture called Pearl Mobile DTV Company, which will offer a “national mobile content service.”
The station groups include NBC Universal (NBC affiliates), News Corp. (Fox affiliates), Belo Corporation, Cox Media Group, E. W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, the Meredith Corporation, Post-Newsweek Stations, and Raycom Media.
Observers immediately compared the new venture to Hulu, and there are some real parallels. Like Hulu’s backers—NBC, News Corp., and CBS—the backers of Pearl Mobile DTV Company command a lot of media holdings, a lot of capital, and a lot of influence; and as such they must be taken seriously.
Like Qualcomm’s FLO TV, the group wants to use the broadcast spectrum that it collectively owns to deliver video to mobile devices without depending on mobile providers' 3G networks. And as with FLO TV, phones will require a special chip inside to receive the signal.
In terms of content, the new service may have access to more content from local stations than will competing mobile video services that rely primarily on large, national content owners and distributers for the their video assets.