Got Modeo? 2006 a big year for mobile video

Crown Castle may not have a booth on the CES floor but that doesn t mean its presence won t be felt on the show floor. The company s mobile video service, which was officially named Modeo earlier today, will be found in a number of booths, including Microsoft, Nokia, Intel, Motorola and Kenwood.

The Modeo service, along with Mobile ESPN and Qualcomm s MediaFLO technology, promise to put mobile sports services, whether live video or stored video clips, front and center in the media landscape in 2006.

Sports is a huge opportunity for these platforms and the entire industry stands to make money with mobile platforms, says Michael Schueppert, president of Modeo.
Manish Jha, Mobile ESPN SVP and GM, concurs. Sports is a very important category for mobile video because it s very perishable, he says. So delivering content in real time is more important that perhaps other genres.

Super Bowl, Super Phone
That s one of the reasons ESPN takes its Mobile ESPN cellphone service national beginning Feb. 6 (not coincidentally the day after the Super Bowl which will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN s sister network. Expect a big Mobile ESPN push during the NFL championship game).

The phone has a number of features that sports fans will find attractive. Customization is a big part of the experience, letting users put access to news and scores related to their favorite teams and players no more than two clicks away from turning on the phone. They ll also have access to video clips, video games, and even columns from ESPN writers. Subscribers will pay about $65 for 450 minutes of voice and access to all of the ESPN sports content.

At this point it won t have the ability to let users tune into a live game but that doesn t concern Jha. Our studies have found that a phone has a very different video usage model than a TV, says Jha. People aren t kicking back with a beer watching a two-hour show.

Instead, he says, they want a quick fix and ESPN delivers it with up to 70 short 30-45 second clips every day. Mobile ESPN production personnel sit side-by-side in the ESPN digital production center in Bristol, CT, and create the clips and graphics with the help of technology from Vizrt and others. You re never more than two clicks away from the information you really want, says Jha.

By the time the service launches nationally ESPN expects to have highlights delivered to subscribers while a game is still going on. If your favorite baseball player hits a home run we ll be able to send you a video alert showing you the play, says Jha. The goal is to have the clip on a user s phone within 5 minutes of the event occurring.

A Little Help
The Modeo service is designed to let users watch a live game, provided rights issues have been cleared. Unlike the ESPN service or other cellphone video services like Verizon s Vcast service, Modeo doesn t rely on cellular networks. Instead Modeo uses Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld or DVB-H. The European digital television standard delivers video at up to 30 frames per second over broadcast spectrum to cellphones and any other devices that have the receiver chips.

It s important to remember that mobile TV is not just about cellphones, says Schueppert. Sure it s important but so are laptops, personal media players and other video systems.
Once a device is capable of receiving the DVB-H signal the user simply turns on the phone and begins receiving live video. The system can also deliver Podcasts directly to devices so that users don t have to download content to a computer and then transfer it to the portable media player. Expect the service to offer between 18-30 channels of video.

Crown Castle, which has a national footprint for the service after buying spectrum at auction for $11 million, expects to roll Modeo out to the top 30 TV markets beginning in 2006 and ending in 2007. The company has been testing the system in Pittsburgh since 2005 and it s also been hard at work setting up the DVB-H transmitters in its first major market: New York City.

We ve quietly been putting the transmitters in place in New York for 18 months, says Schueppert. In fact, the system in New York is up and running today. The only thing that is needed is commercially available handsets or chips that can be added to existing phones and laptops to make them compatible with DVB-H.

The economics of broadcasting technologies are better if there s a higher population density, says Schueppert. In fact, over the history of broadcasting every broadcast network started out in New York.

Rights fight?
When looking at the types of programming that will be a hit on Modeo Schueppert points to sports as a winner. The only problem? Getting the rights to the content. Negotiating those rights is clearly going to be trickiest for sports programming, he says.

Jha says ESPN s rights are a mix of exclusive and non-exclusive deals. But he says that as deals are renewed ESPN is pushing hard for mobile distribution rights.

As a result, expect to see those networks that haven t received clearance from all their content providers to create a mobile version of their network while others will deliver a lightly changed version that will have new graphics and other features to optimize it for the small screen.

There are some technical decisions about how you will make a channel look great on the smaller screen, says Schueppert. And having a different channel also helps get around the rights issues. If a network can solve 95% of the rights problems but still can t cut a deal with two shows its nice to be able to take the shows out of your lineup.