MobiTV, now coming to your home, going mobile was the hardest part

Posted on October 4, 2010

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(Bloomberg) If you’ve watched the World Cup or NFL games on your mobile phone, you probably used MobiTV Inc.’s services without knowing it. Now the company is working to bring its technology into your home.

MobiTV’s new service, slated to be introduced at this week’s CTIA wireless-industry conference in San Francisco, will let a football fan watch a game on a smartphone, pause it and then resume viewing from the big screen at home.

The idea is to deliver the same television service to TV sets, mobile devices, home computers and even the office — something that Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Google Inc. also have talked about. MobiTV is betting that its experience in bringing live programming to AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. customers gives it an advantage over larger competitors that have yet to crack the mobile-TV market.
“We solved the hardest part first,” said Charlie Nooney, MobiTV’s chief executive officer, who joined the closely held company three years ago after a career in media and TV. “The most complex piece is the mobile device.”

Founded in 1999, MobiTV has raised more than $100 million in venture capital. The Emeryville, California-based company has developed software that delivers sports, TV shows and news to more than 350 different kinds of devices. With that business, MobiTV is approaching $100 million in annual revenue, according to a person familiar with the matter. Nooney, 55, declined to comment on the company’s sales.

Live Events

Unlike much of the video on mobile phones, MobiTV’s programming can be delivered as it happens. In a single week in September, the company showed more than 59 live sporting events, ranging from the National Football League to Nascar racing, accounting for 170 hours of total programming. The company also showed all of the World Cup games this year.

The service is available to users of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, offered exclusively by AT&T in the U.S., for $10 a month. MobiTV also powers similarly priced TV offerings for Sprint and Verizon Wireless customers.

For the past three years, MobiTV has been in “stealth mode” working on its project for TV everywhere, said Chief Technology Officer Kay Johansson. The company has focused on building a system that can track what subscribers are watching and allow them to record, pause and move video to any screen they want. That entails keeping customer account information in a central place, so service providers can make sure programs are only provided to those who have paid.

Technology Giants

Silicon Valley’s largest companies are chasing the same market. Google, the world’s biggest search engine, has developed an operating system for computers, phones and tablets and plans to launch an Internet TV service this year. Intel, Sony Corp. and Logitech International SA are part of the project. Google, which already has the biggest share of online advertising, wants a slice of the $175 billion TV-ad market.

TV anywhere isn’t a new concept — it just hasn’t succeeded before, said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology consulting firm in Campbell, California.
“It has been tried before a number of times, but now we have a growing installed base of very powerful mobile devices,” Bajarin said. “And we’ve got the network infrastructure to deliver it.”

The number of U.S. smartphone owners rose 11 percent to 53.4 million in the quarter ended in July, according to ComScore Inc. in Reston, Virginia.

Cisco Project

As early as 2006, Cisco talked about spending $4 billion on research and development to combine video, voice, data and mobile services on the Web. Intel has discussed the need to create chips that power mobile video, though its products have yet to show up in wireless devices.

MobiTV, which gets most of its revenue from carriers such as Verizon, plans to bring its service to personal computers, set-top boxes and televisions. It’s providing the technology, with the goal of getting service providers — including phone, cable and Internet companies — to adopt it.

To date, demand for live programming on multiple devices has yet to materialize, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc. Consumers are more interested in being able to move their own content, such as pictures, music and personal videos, from device to device.

Live TV “still seems to have a low profile in the rank of consumers’ must-haves,” Milanesi said.

MobiTV’s Johansson, 40, says that’s only because no company has successfully brought the technology to market.

“Now is when the real race starts,” he said.

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