Affluent to embrace condensed TV programs on mobile devices

“Hi! I’m Sam the Cooking Guy. In the next two minutes, I’m going to show you how to make broccoli and beef. You won’t believe it , it’s so easy!”

This will be the future of mobiTV, television on mobile devices, and local chef Sam Zien is among those who will soon pop up on your handy cell phone, iPod or PSP.

The recipe is simple: condense a 30- or 60-minute program down to a few minutes, and voila; , you’ve got a mobisode (a mobile episode)! It’s a notch up from traditional 15-second video clips, which have been introduced to the tech-savvy market since the advent of portable video gadgets. The catch, of course, is that any distilled version of a popular TV show might not necessarily appeal to mass consumers. Cooking shows are different, though, in that they consist of usable content.

“I don’t think Shakira is usable content,” said Zien, whose show already comes pre-loaded on some cell phones in Brazil, Chile and certain parts of the United States. “I don’t think ‘the best of Michael Jordan’ is usable content. They’re fun to watch, but (my cooking show) has a purpose.

“People don’t need a lot. You don’t need a half-hour of me making a stew. Two minutes of me showing you how to make something, and you’ve got it figured out.”

Heading to market

But how much is it worth to watch mobiTV? For the consumer, time is not a commodity, according to Zien. He’s already picturing the pre-loaded cell phones on your kitchen counter or in the palm of your hand, while you’re buying ingredients for his latest concoction.

“I’m not going to watch Shakira on my cell phone,” Zien said, “but it would be cool to stand in a supermarket and go, ‘What did that guy say I needed again?’ ”

KPBS Program Director Keith York envisions a slightly different future for his audience’s take on mobiTV. He predicts young, affluent viewers will embrace this technology, regardless of usable content, while his 50-plus-year-old viewers will most likely stray from it.

“Kid shows on cell phones are going to explode,” York said, “because mom and dad have a cell phone, and they can hand it to the kid, and (the kid) can watch five-minute episodes of ‘Sponge Bob.’

“And the older part of our audience is like, ‘this personal technology is a fad. Somebody is just trying to get more money, and it’s not going to make my quality of life any better.’ ”

Elderly people tend to have vision problems, such as glaucoma or trachoma, so watching television on a cell phone is “almost exclusively a young person’s exercise,” York added. Naturally, this eliminates content from CNN or C-SPAN, for example, because its target demographic caters to the elderly, the technophobes.

Costly exercise

There is one more factor: money.

“The cell phone business does not know how to sell TV,” York said. “ITunes just figured out that people will pay a buck-ninety-nine for an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’ on your computer. So what’s the price when you download a show to your cell phone? It should be cheaper, because the screen is smaller. But are those equations real?”

Not exactly. For the cost to watch a mobisode on your cell phone, you’re better off just watching it on your TiVo , for now. Most cell phones capable of video playback retail anywhere from $350 to $470.

And that’s without a V-Cast subscription, a service you’ll have to sign up for to download your movie files, which will cost you an additional $15 per month on top of your existing phone bill. (Another drawback: Downloading a movie onto your cell phone will cut into your talking time.)

Add a $5 fee to keep your downloaded movie file on your cell phone and you’re looking at a total cost so big that you could buy a trip to Hawaii.

Although cell phones outperform most advanced mobile devices, as far as functionality goes, Sony’s PSP is yet another versatile contender.

While it doesn’t have a megapixel camera like Motorola’s RAZR, the PSP has a larger, clearer screen and can hook up to a $350 device that lets you surf the Net or watch your favorite TV programs via broadband speed. The streaming video isn’t as pixilated as it appears on a cell phone, but the higher quality drains the battery life faster. Once you’ve watched a two-hour-long movie on your PSP, you’ll need to recharge it. By comparison, the cell phone will last you twice as long.

The PSP doesn’t come cheap. It’s $250 and its movies retail somewhere between $15 to $25. There are $10 protective screen covers you’ll probably want to buy, and protective cases for the UMD discs , those tiny compact discs the videos are stored in , cost $20 for a four-pack.

Apple’s latest $300 iPod, which is also capable of video playback, is small enough to fit in one hand. It, too, has a crisp display and is probably the sleekest-looking mobile device among them all. Yet it’s got the least functionality, and you still have to play around with a computer cable, if you want to download a mobisode.

A sound system

Much like the PSP, the sound quality isn’t limited to tiny built-in speakers, since you can hook it up to a regular stereo system , something you can’t do with a cell phone. Though it can play “up to 14 hours of music,” it can only play about two and a half hours of video playback before it has to be recharged again for four hours. Not good.

Nevertheless, Rob Chandhok, the vice president of engineering and market development for MediaFLO, Qualcomm Inc.’s mobiTV division, argues that consumers will buy into mobiTV despite temporary shortcomings.

“There will always be a need and interest for short-format content,” he said, “and the mobile user doesn’t often have time to sit down and watch that 40-minute episode. So there will always be the two- to three-minute update or excerpt that’ll be interesting.

“In the end, we’re going to have a very rich mixture of the kinds of media that are available , live, streaming, longer and shorter clips, and other things on demand. The market will mature in that area and provide consumers with quite a breadth of offerings.”

The mobiTV industry, overall, is still in its infancy, so ironing out the kinks will take two to three years. After everyone is scuffling around with a venti latte in one hand and the cell phone in the other, the next generation of mobile devices will offer something even newer, flashier , and perhaps scarier. York’s prediction? Digital video recorders. Because, after all, you’ll have to record “Sam the Cooking Guy,” while your TomTom is navigating you around town.

This article was originally published in The San Diego Business Journal.