FLO TV Keeps On-the-Go Fans Tuned Into World Cup 24/7

For American fans, this year’s World Cup games are played mostly at inconvenient TV watching times; the early-morning hours do not generally allow big-screen TV viewing. To support fans, however, FLO TV is offering all 64 matches of the World Cup live on FLO TV devices and handsets, in addition to a dedicated 24-hour World Cup channel, so fans on the go never have to miss a match.

A FLO-ing TV Network
FLO TV, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, is a dedicated mobile-TV network that brings live sports, news, and other programming to mobile devices through its nationwide network.

“We’re basically our own TV network,” explains Jeff Gattis, director of product management at FLO TV. “We invest in towers and infrastructure, make deals with content companies, and have 300-plus engineers that work on our chipset to bring programming to mobile devices.”

Through an agreement with ESPN, FLO TV offers ESPN Mobile’s made-for-small-screen coverage of many events, including the World Cup, on mobile phones, auto entertainment devices, and proprietary FLO TV personal televisions. As part of its wholesale business, FLO TV offers the service to handset carriers like Verizon and AT&T, which market the video through their own brands, such as Verizon VCast and AT&T Live Mobile TV.

“That content is being powered over our FLO network,” Gattis explains. “But there are some challenges on the handset side. [For fans] to receive our service, we need to have our chipset inside the mobile device. We have a growing number of handsets with our chipset on it, but that’s an ongoing process.”

Last autumn, FLO TV debuted a proprietary personal TV that now offers 16 channels of content.

Personal TVs

To complement that wholesale business, FLO TV last fall launched a direct-to-consumer business, selling personal televisions with the FLO TV brand at retail outlets nationwide. The service costs $10-15 per month. “That is a dedicated TV service that offers 16 channels of live and time-shifted content on the devices,” Gattis says. “We’re moving forward with a number of different accessories, including wireless accessories that will deliver FLO TV to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Our goal is to give customers a choice as to how they receive the service.”

Currently, customers receive the content via satellite feeds that FLO TV pulls into its operations center in San Diego.

“We’ve cut individual deals with the content providers, so the ESPN signal, for example, will come into our center and we will distribute it out across our nationwide network,” Gattis explains. “We use different IP infrastructure, fiber, different things to route it out. It’s then transmitted via our towers that cover 80% of the United States.”

The Breadth-Depth Tradeoff
The FLO TV signal is transmitted in QVGA quality, the same format in which FLO receives the ESPN mobile feed. QVGA quality, Gattis says, looks pretty good on a screen measuring from 3.5 to 6 in. wide.

“It wouldn’t look so good on a 60-in. screen, but our play in the marketplace is on smaller screens,” he points out. “We do a lot of compression to optimize the quality. We have bandwidth spectrum that we have acquired, but it’s a finite amount of spectrum. Our challenge is to find the right balance between the number of channels that we can offer and the video quality that we’re transmitting.”

Currently, FLO TV offers 16 channels of video but can offer as many as 20 unique channels, if the video quality is stepped down slightly. If the quality were increased to VGA or HD standard, Gattis says, the finite amount of bandwidth would not allow FLO TV to transmit as many channels, so there is a tradeoff. So far, FLO TV has chosen to offer more channels, perhaps at the expense of video quality, but he notes that he has not received any negative feedback about the quality.

“That’s one of the things in our business going forward that we’re continuing to look at,” he says. “We’re looking at different technologies and strategies to acquire additional bandwidth to be able to widen our array of content but also increase the video quality at the same time.”

All World Cup, All the Time
In addition to showing all 64 World Cup games live, provided by ESPN Mobile, FLO TV is offering a 24-hour World Cup channel throughout the tournament.

“We refer to it as time-shifted content,” Gattis says. “We do it with network programming, too. We’ll run Jay Leno at noon the next day because we get a spike in viewership around lunch hour on weekdays. People like to watch programs that they may have missed the night before, and it works the same way with sports like the World Cup.”

The World Cup has been a boon for the FLO TV service so far this summer: the opening match was the most trafficked event the company has ever had on FLO TV.

“Over 80% of our subscribers were tuned into the World Cup at some point that day,” Gattis says. “Sports has been a really big push for us. We’re continually looking at adding more sports relationships into the mix because we know that’s a big driver in subscribership.”