A few weeks ago I was at a cocktail party and met a guy who works for MobiTV. MobiTV is a content provider specializing in getting television programs onto cell phones. They currently provide programming as part of Cingular, Sprint, Alltel and other national carriers' service plans, as well as their own direct-to-smartphone monthly packages.
Before that conversation, I'd never watched video on a cellphone save for some clips I'd shot with my phones' built-in camcorder feature, so I asked if MobiTV had many subscribers. My new friend smiled and nodded his head yes. "Cell phones are the perfect sales vehicle," he said. "On the Web you need to enter a username and password, or even pull out your credit card and punch in all of those numbers before you can buy anything. On a cell phone, you just press one button. That's it. People love to buy things with their cell phones."
He continued on, telling me about MobiTV's channel lineup ("When you get people who pay to watch CSPAN, you know you're on to something") and work creating custom channels as well as versions of their software for new platforms. I was fascinated, even if the idea of watching a TV show on a 2" cell phone screen seemed odd to me.
Not long after that I received a package from Sprint with a few of their latest Power Vision phones, and another package from Samsung that included a Verizon VCast phone and one of Cingular's new 3G compatible handsets featuring Cingular Video. One of the perks of writing for PhoneDog is that I get to try the new stuff out, including all of the streaming audio and video options. So I logged onto VCast, and then to Sprint's Power Vision service.
I watched some Comedy Central clips on the Samsung SCH-A930 (Verizon), and rented the movie "10 Things I Hate About You" on the LG Fusic (Sprint). Then I watched a few movie trailers on each of the devices (I haven't yet tried out Cingular Video). While I'm not about to sell my HDTV in favor of a lifetime subscription to MobiTV, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Watching video on a tiny little cell phone screen wasn't all that bad. I'd say the experience is best suited to short clips like comedy sketches, music videos, and movie trailers, and not so good for feature films. Still, streaming videos buffered pretty quickly so long as I had EV-DO reception, and with phone screens now commonly as high resolution as QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) with support for 262,00 or even 16 million colors, moving images looked pretty sharp and vivid, if rather small.
Excessive consumption of television on your cell phone may lead to prolonged squinting, but I can definitely see why thousands of customers happily pay a few bucks each month to watch news and weather updates, sports highlights, and short video programs on their cells. If you've got a smartphone, you can also check out the SlingBox, a $200 gadget that hooks up to your TV or Cable Box to stream programming across the Web. Just don't get caught watching the game on your Treo when you're supposed to be out to dinner with your spouse...