Last night I participated in the mobile video panel I mentioned a few days ago, put on by TiE Boston's Wireless Technology Business Forum. The meeting was great -- good Indian food, interesting audience participation, interesting side discussions, and I ran into a number of people I hadn't seen in years. (The record goes to Russell Cyr, Founder & CMO at BitWave, who I hadn't seen in more than 10 years).
Although I didn't realize it in advance, I was there to be controversial and to represent the rest of the world on a panel that was otherwise entirely US-centric. So I had a lot of fun!
I started off with a short (3 slides) summary of the closing ideas I'd used in my IMTC keynote in May. Interestingly, when I asked how many in the audience had heard of Andrew Odlyzko's article "Content is not King," there was no one! Zero! Admittedly it's over four years old, but still... A few moments later I asked how many people were familiar with Chris Anderson's article "The Long Tail." About half raised their hands. More on this in a moment...
After me, Jeremy DeBonet of MobiTV described their service and the kinds of content they were providing through Sprint. MobiTV goes as low as 0.75 to 2 frames per second and works with only 45 Kbps, so it can work over 2.5G networks like Sprint's 1xRTT network -- of course, it gets better with 1xEVDO.
Doug Busk of Verizon Wireless and Brian Barrett of Sprint each described their services. Sprint started video services before they had true 3G speeds, using their 1xRTT network. Verizon only launched video services after they got 1xEVDO capability. As both of these networks move to 1xEVDO, they use the additional download capacity to support up to 8-10 frames per second.
Most interesting for me: Vladimir Edelman of ESPN Mobile described some of the things ESPN has done to re-purpose content for the mobile environment. This kicked off a general discussion of what content makes sense in the mobile environment.
Since mobile video has a smaller screen and limited bandwidth (leading to lower resolution and reduced frame rates), you can't deliver normal TV channels and expect a satisfactory user experience. At a minimum, you have to crop the images so what's left fills the small, reduced resolution screen. Beyond that you need to trade off resolution with frames per second depending upon the action. An exciting sports sequence will benefit from more frames per second when there's action and fewer frames but more resolution when focusing on a player's face while they wait for the next burst of action.
There followed more than an hour of interesting questions and discussion covering both content and infrastructure which I won't try to record here.
Several people in the audience raised the question of how could an independent or a "mom and pop" operation offer specialized content on one of these mobile networks. While politely rendered, the answer always came back: you can't! These are walled gardens and the service providers are looking to do just a few deals that will give them very popular content on appropriate terms. I pointed out there's a lot of niche content and user-generated content out on the long tail. DoCoMo (and others) have shown this is very good business. The answer: they have no capacity to deal with numerous content providers and they worry about their brand. I pressed on how long they thought they could maintain their walled garden. The first answer was: indefinitely. After I asked "what about dual mode phones with WiFi?", Doug Busk (of Verizon Wireless) admitted he was very worried about WiFi.
The good news is there were a number of people in the audience who get it. And as I like to incite controversy, I had a good time.
All in all it was a fun evening and I have joined TiE Boston. Thank you, Stan Reiss, for inviting me.