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Measuring the Mobile DTV Market

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, the consortium of some 900 TV stations that has been driving mobile DTV development since 2007, is employing both qualitative and quantitative techniques to gauge consumer feedback in its "Consumer Showcase" in Washington, D.C., which launched in May. The data will be crucial to defining broadcasters' business models for mobile DTV going forward.

The trial involves nine DC-area TV stations broadcasting 23 mobile DTV channels throughout the Washington-Baltimore viewing area, with Gannett's WUSA serving as a network operations center. Some 160 Sprint wireless subscribers are receiving the mobile DTV signals on specially equipped Samsung Moment cellphones, and as of late June, another 200 consumers are now getting them on prototype Dell netbooks with mobile DTV chips. The content ranges from local Fox and NBC broadcast programming to digital subchannels like ThisTV to cable networks such as CNBC and MSNBC, which are being delivered using conditional access (called "service protection" under the mobile DTV standard).

The trial participants are being measured qualitatively by Harris Interactive, which is using a Facebook-style social media tool called an online community. Participants are required to answer three or four questions a week which are posted by a moderator, and also have the option of making voluntary comments on the service, explains Harris Interactive VP Aaron Heffron.

"It's a great tool in that we get directed feedback but also user-generated feedback," says Heffron. "Users are posting their own experiences, such as ‘I'm sitting and watching Judge Judy for 15 minutes while I'm waiting for the train.' It's kind of like a 200-person focus group."

"Consumers really talk about what they're doing, and we get a real sense of how they're using it," adds OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle, who is overseeing the Showcase.

While the trial is still in its early stages, Harris Interactive has already assembled some 4,000 comments to date and shared some initial findings. They include: nearly two-thirds of viewing (63%) is being done "on the go," compared with 44% occurring at work or school; just one-third (33%) of viewers say they watch mobile DTV at home. Also, just under half of viewers say they watch one or two times a day, while under 30% of viewers say they watch three or more times a day.

So far, participants are reporting a lot of viewership during the day, at lunchtime and midafternoon. Many also say they've been watching Univision's coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. As the trial goes on this summer, Harris Interactive will ask participants more detailed questions about what particular shows they're watching and what content they would like to see on the service, as well as whether they would be interested in a pay-TV service.

One anecdotal finding that stands out, says Heffron, is that participants were surprised by the picture quality of mobile DTV on small handsets.

"When people first turned it on, they said, ‘Hey, look how sharp this picture is.' You don't get the pixelization or loading time you have with normal streamed video."

Heffron says the reception characteristics of mobile DTV also impressed participants.

"The mobility of it surprised people as well," says Heffron. "They were expecting more difficulty in reception going from place to place."

Later this month, Harris Interactive will start to combine its qualitative findings with quantitative measurements from Rentrak, which already measures mobile consumption, including streaming video and text messaging, for big programmers like NBCU. Rentrak has installed a software agent on the smartphones and netbooks used in the trial, which captures viewing data (consumers have to opt in) and then transmits it over an IP backchannel to its servers. Rentrak has integrated its software with Expway's electronic service guide (ESG) technology for the Samsung Moment phones and with Roundbox for the Dell netbooks.

"We dump the data into our Mobile Essentials tracking systems, and it gets cleaned, homogenized, sorted, sliced and diced numerous ways," says Rentrak Corporate President Ken Papagan. "Not only what people are watching, but time of day, length of view and what channels and genres. Then we take that data and match it up against the TV listing schedules of the 23 channels. From Harris Interactive, we're also able to match it up against the demographics of users."

He adds that Rentrak will also be able to measure commercial viewing, including a recent "Project Roadblock" public-service campaign against drunk driving run by the Ad Council and Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) that featured both spots and banner ads on the ESG. Rentrak will also measure the effectiveness of interactive ads that OMVC plans to test in the coming months.

Papagan isn't ready to release detailed viewing figures on the Washington trial, but says the early data suggests users are pleased with the service and that consumers appear to be adding mobile DTV viewing to their existing consumption patterns.

"What we are finding is that it certainly seems that the time of day and the situation where people are viewing is additive," says Papagan. "They're using it at times they couldn't get to a TV screen. That's logical. At Rentrak we see this a lot as we go from screen to screen. These new media are generally always additive as opposed to cannibalistic."

OMVC plans to share some of that viewing data in a report later this month, says Schelle. Further reports on program genres and viewer demographics will follow.

The focus of OMVC's business advisory committee, initially tasked with exploring preliminary business models for mobile DTV, has shifted strongly to the research side with the launch of the D.C. showcase, says Schelle. For example, OMVC will team with TVB to produce a case study on the effectiveness of the "Project Roadblock" campaign.

"What's important there is looking at what's the model, and what are the extensions of CPMs to mobile TV," she says. "What are the types of users, is it busy moms, or is it road warriors? What are the categories?"

Some broadcasters have complained that the OMVC's business committee stopped communicating this spring as various OMVC members collaborated privately on forming a joint venture to launch a national mobile DTV program service, a coalition formally announced at NAB. Schelle says that such criticism is unfounded and that OMVC has been "very open" about what it's doing with the D.C. showcase.

"People are never going to be happy about everything," she says. "But we did a lot of good work planning for D.C."