Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Virgin dumps its UK mobile TV service after just 10 months

A clear testament of the fact that what makes or breaks a wireless mobile service today is the terminal support for the same. One of the key reasons for the failure of CDMA to take-off widely was the limited handset portfolio.

Virgin dumps its UK mobile TV service after just 10 months

27/07/2007 11:19:00 - by Martyn Warwick

Well, that didn't last long, did it? Ten months after launching its much-vaunted mobile TV broadcast service with much fanfare and an expensive advertising campaign featuring Pamela Anderson, Virgin Mobile has confirmed that it is to discontinue and close down the service in January 2008.

Ostensibly Virgin has been pushed into taking the action because BT Movio, that provides bandwidth for the service is cancelling its contract with GCap Media, the company that owns the frequency the Virgin Mobile TV service runs on. However, the underlying reasons for the abandonment of the nascent service are somewhat more complex.
To begin at the beginning, Virgin only ever has one handset capable of receiving its mobile TV service. This is/was the bizarrely-named and even more bizarrely-shaped Lobster 700 TV handset from HTC. Users didn't like it and only about 10,000 Lobsters were sold.
Telecom TV contacted Virgin Mobile this morning and although the company was remarkably reluctant to discuss the reasons for the cancellation of the service , the company did eventually email us the following comment:
"Virgin Mobile has received notice from BT that it plans to discontinue the BT Movio mobile TV service. Virgin Mobile is working closely with BT to confirm the timescale for the closure of the service, which will run until at least the end of January 2008, and we will ensure that all customers affected by the closure are kept informed of changes to their existing service.
Customers will still be able to access DAB radio services on their handsets, which our research has shown is a key attraction of the product for many users. Virgin Mobile is proud to have led the way in offering the first broadcast mobile TV service in the UK, and we will continue to work to offer groundbreaking new services to consumers."
You will note that nowhere does the statement explain the causes for the termination of the service although it is self-evident that there simply weren't enough subscribers to warrant its continuance.
It's also interesting that Virgin actually says the Lobster's in-built DAB radio "is a key attraction of the product for many users." Strange that, after all the service is really all about mobile broadcast TV and if subscribers were spending more time listening to DAB audio rather than watching videos its pretty apparent that something must have gone badly wrong somewhere.
Word has it that Virgin Mobile was in a quandry over what to do about a service that was going nowhere and losing money and the company seems to have taken rapid opportunity to pass the buck for the decision and blame the demise of its current iteration of mobile TV on BT.
This morning, the Lobster phone and the mobile TV offering are conspicuous by their absence from their accustomed place in the line up of products and services on the Virgin Mobile web site.

There's no explanation as to their disappearance, they have just gone – airbrushed from history without a word.
For its part, BT is rather more frank. In a press release the incumbent British telco says, "BT can confirm that following a review of its wholesale solutions, the decision has been made not to continue with the Movio service. BT is discussing the timescale for the closure of the service with Virgin Mobile. While the feedback from users on the service has been complimentary, Movio sales have been slower than originally expected mainly due to a lack of compatible devices from the big brands. This in turn has been caused by the fragmented nature of the mobile TV market and hesitancy on the part of the main network operators as they seek to fill their own largely underutilised 3G networks."
That's a bit more like it. BT's Movio service used DMB, (Digital Multimedia Broadcast) a system that takes advantage of being able to piggy-back on the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) network.
Originally, Movio was intended to run on any broadcast technology but in recent months it has become evident that some standards were losing out as others gain market traction.
Probably what put the final nail in the Virgin Mobile TV service was the EU last week coming out in favour of Nokia's DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast - Handsets) technology as the standard of choice for mobile TV across all 27 member states of the European Union. Frankly it was probably the kiss of death for DMB and the last straw for Virgin Mobile.

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