cell phone television the easy way

This article at Ars about the economics and technical challenges of watching TV on your cel phone leaves me confused. For one thing, Sprint already offers TV, and they seem to meet the affordability problem by simply charging up the wazoo. My cell phone can support streaming TV but I’d have to pay an extra $15/month at minimum for the service; a more realistic unlimited usage plan is a $40 addon.

But what’s even more puzzling is why cell phones don’t just allow you to watch standard TV. Rather than muck about with bandwidth concerns over the cell network, just receive the TV signal from actual TV towers. Am I missing something here? Doesn’t that seem the easiest route? The resolution on my cell phone LCD is probably higher than my analog TV anyway; with HDTV that won’t be the case but the signal can always be downsampled in realtime (easier than upsampling since there’s no interpolation involved).

Sure, the cell phone companies don’t get any revenue by this, but the cell phone makers could certainly sell it as a value-added feature on upscale phones. People would pay; I know I’d watch TV on my cell phone while commuting on the bus, for example – much easier than dealing with digital downloads and portable DVD players and whatnot.

UPDATE: The Japanese have had analog TV on their cell phones since 2003, and now have digital TV too.

4 thoughts on “cell phone television the easy way”

  1. You’re making a fundamental mistake: you’re assuming that you are the customer of the company that makes cellphones.

    Actually, you aren’t. The operating company is the customer of the cellphone manufacturer, and they tune the cell phone feature set to please their customer — which isn’t you.

    The operating company wants you to want the cell phones, so some of the features which are included by the cell phone manufacturer are there because it’s expected that you’ll want it. But any feature that you’d want but the operating company would not gets left out, because they’re the customer as far as the cell phone manufacturer is concerned.

    Not you.

    (Another example of that is the way the cell phone manufacturers go to great length to make it nigh-unto-impossible for you to break the subsidy lock on phones. That’s what the customer — which isn’t you — wants, so that’s what the cell phone manufacturer does.)

  2. ahh. I knew there was a perfectly rational explanation.

    Still, what would stop a cellphone maker, who comes out with a sexy new ZAMBA model that they want to build serious branding on? The value-add of TV reception might amount to an extra $50 on teh phone priceover a less-enabled model, which the vendor could split with the cell carrier. That way they both get a piece of the pie. The obvious argument against my own idea is of course that the cut of teh pie isnt sweet enough to warrant teh cell phone carrier potentially undermining their own $20/month addt’l fee for TV via their own network, I guess.. but the first carrier who swallows their greed and jumps on it will have an instant marketing edge. Watch TV for free on your phone, unlike the other guys who charge you an arm and a leg!

  3. The result would be a very popular cell phone, which would sell well — by displacing sales of other cell phones offered by that operating company. It wouldn’t bring in new subscribers, but it would eliminate all those $20 fees you mentioned.

    The operating companies aren’t in the business of selling handsets. It’s something they are forced to do because you have to have a handset in order to purchase what they do sell: air time and related services.

    To that end, the operating companies take a loss on every handset they sell, and they lose more on the expensive ones. I’m no longer conversant enough with the industry to be able to say how much, but for high end handsets it didn’t use to be uncommon at all for the operating company to lose $200 per handset.

    So that marvelous high-end feature might well add $50 to the consumer cost, while adding $70 to the manufacturer’s price, thus resulting in $20 greater loss by the operating company per unit sold.

    The operating companies don’t like lots of handset turnover, because they lose a bunch of money every time that happens. What they want in new models is handsets which are cool enough to entice new customers, but not so cool as to cause wholesale upgrades by their existing customer base, which would be a financial disaster for them.

    And of course, the handset manufacturers provide what their customer (the operating company, not you) wants.

  4. It seems that the asian markets have had cell phone TV reception for some years now. Clearly the same rules dont apply to those markets as ours. Sigh.

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