A No-Go for FLO TV

Qualcomm is throwing in the towel on its $800 million-plus mobile-TV venture.

The company said last week it has stopped selling FLO TV direct-to-consumer devices and expects to maintain the service for existing customers through the spring of 2011, as it considers what to do with its network and spectrum assets.

But to some observers, the move doesn’t indicate a lack of interest for TV on mobile devices — only that the company’s FLO TV dedicated broadcast network wasn’t economically viable.

The future of the mobile-TV offerings from AT&T and Verizon Wireless — which are delivered by FLO TV over the same dedicated 6-Megahertz slice in the 700-MHz band — remained unclear. Qualcomm declined to provide additional information, and the wireless carriers would not comment.

“We have been engaging in conversations with a wide range of partners for both the network and the spectrum,” Qualcomm said, noting that it previously disclosed that it is examining “strategic opportunities” for the FLO TV unit. “We are seeing strong interest in using the FLO TV network or spectrum to capitalize on the growing imbalance between mobile data supply and demand, the growth of tablets, and consumer demand for high-quality video and print content, and a richer user experience.”

Does that mean people don’t want to watch TV on the go? Not according to MobiTV, which provides live TV and on-demand content to more than 13 million subscribers through agreements with providers including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel.

“We are integrated with every major carrier in North America, every major handset manufacturer and every major content partner,” the company said in a statement last week. “We’ve proven the market in mobile.”

Other industry executives noted that 4G wireless data networks will be more than capable of delivering live TV and video-on-demand. “We see strong potential for mobile video services, such as adding video to already existing voice and/or text services, or continuing video streaming including mobile TV,” said Jim Machi, senior vice president of marketing for Dialogic, which sells media-processing and communications products to providers.

Meanwhile, the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a consortium representing more than 900 local TV broadcasters, continues to test signals using the Mobile DTV standard, delivered to a variety of handsets and mobile devices in the hopes of expanding their reach.

FLO TV tried to pursue a cable-like model for mobile TV. The service had deals to carry more than a dozen channels, including ABC Mobile, CBS Mobile, CNBC, Comedy Central, Disney Channel, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, MTV, NBC2GO and Nickelodeon. The service costs between $10 and $15 per month from Qualcomm, AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Qualcomm said that in the event FLO TV is shut down the company will “make appropriate refunds, the details of which will be communicated prior to discontinuation.”