The NFL is streaming to tablets via Verizon Wireless- or so we hear- 11 million mobile video watchers can’t be wrong!

Posted on October 1, 2010


This is really no surprise, 11 million people in the US have watched video over a mobile device this year (up 60%). Tablets are a new form factor and the inevitable product growth spurt has already begun with the new RIM Playbook, with many more vendors and products to hit the street this year.

Take a lesson from the Japanese on this one, the usage percentages of mobile video usage in that country will be where the US is in the next 6 years or so (maybe faster).

(WSJ) The National Football League is in talks with Verizon Wireless to distribute its football programming via a tablet computer.

“The NFL will be on a tablet,” said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s senior vice president of media strategy. “It’s a question of what shape or form. We are currently talking to Verizon about it.”

Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debra Lewis declined to comment on the talks.

The discussions underscore the growing importance of video to the wireless industry as it begins a major shift to speedier fourth generation broadband networks. The U.S. wireless industry has been touting video for many years but it has yet to take off in a major way.

Now, faster wireless networks, widespread adoption of sophisticated devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad tablet, and a range of new video applications are pointing to a potential breakout. Still, licensing rights disputes, the high cost of content and questions over whether networks can handle a surge in video traffic threaten to hold back the industry.

“We are trying to drive awareness of video,” said Colson Hillier, executive director of multimedia and entertainment at Verizon Wireless. “It is rapidly becoming one of the most significant drivers of traffic.”

Japan has long seen the highest usage of video on mobile devices, with Europe and the U.S. lagging far behind. But over the past year, the number of people in the U.S. over the age of 13 who have watched TV or video on a mobile phone has increased 60% to more than 11 million users, according to comScore Inc.

U.S. wireless carriers expect to see continued growth in video usage as they begin to roll out 4G networks. While 3G networks offer download rates of about one megabyte to three megabytes a second, 4G networks offer anywhere from five megabytes to 12 megabytes. Whereas video on a 3G device can often seem clunky and grainy, 4G is more like watching video on a PC with a broadband connection.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Vodafone Group Plc and Verizon Communications Inc. and the largest U.S. carrier by subscribers, plans to introduce 4G service in 30 markets by the end of the year. Carriers are betting that speedier networks will help drive growth of their expensive data plans. And video, they say, will be the draw. “We need some kind of content to bring it to life,” said Mr. Hiller.

In March, Verizon signed a $720 million four-year deal with the NFL to be its official wireless partner. The NFL Mobile app, which is part of that partnership, allows Verizon to rebroadcast games played on the league-owned NFL Network. “Whether we secure the rights to every game, we will have to see,” said Mr. Hillier.

Sprint Nextel Corp., the first U.S. wireless carrier to begin offering 4G service, said surveys show video is the most popular feature. Fared Adib, Sprint’s vice president of product development, said 4G’s faster speeds allowed the company to add unique features to its phones. Sprint’s HTC Evo 4G includes a special version of Google Inc.’s YouTube video player that streams higher quality versions of video content.

“You don’t have jitter and issues with stopping and starting,” Mr. Adib said. “We definitely think that video services are going to highlight the capability of the 4G network.”

Another force driving increased video usage is new easy-to-use apps that let people capture, share and playback video on their mobile devices. Sprint, for instance, embedded the Qik Inc. video app on its HTC Evo and used it heavily in marketing the device. The app allows users to conduct two-way video chat, stream live videos or send video emails.

Bhaskar Roy, Qik co-founder and vice president of product, said the company has 3.5 million users, up six-fold from the end of 2009. Qik is working with two other U.S. wireless carriers to integrate its technology in phones, though it declined to name them. Moreover, Mr. Roy said the company expects Qik to be preloaded on more than 75 million smartphones and other devices in the next year. “We are getting deeply integrated into the device,” said Mr. Roy. “A lot of people are capturing videos of their kids.”

Maybe too many, though. When the Evo launched this summer, some users griped about spotty video chat connections as the video chat app saw its servers crushed by an unexpected onslaught of calls. The situation was so bad that Qik temporarily pulled the application while engineers scrambled to add more capacity.

Verizon is also moving ahead with its video strategy. Earlier this year, it made V CAST, which features TV and other video content, available on its growing slate of Android devices. It is also working on other deals to provide exclusive content for its phones, but securing rights has been a challenge.

Rights are also an issue with the tablet market. Currently, the Verizon-NFL deal only covers mobile phones, not tablets. So Verizon can’t carry over the NFL Mobile app to a tablet. Also, Verizon doesn’t have the rights to carry all of its V CAST TV and video programming to a tablet.

“The rights issues around tablets are still very much in flux,” said Mr. Hillier. “There is some sorting out that needs to take place.”