This Week in Streaming: New Approaches to Mobile Content

In an article published a few months back, we discussed the move by ESPN Mobile to abandon its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) status after only a few months of service. Apparently the lure of mobile video was so great, however, that MVNO or no MVNO, ESPN had to get back into the game.

ESPN on V Cast
ESPN announced a deal late last week with Verizon that provides on-demand clips as well as a full channel of programming. Video available via Verizon’s V Cast service, will allow ESPN to make short segments of sports highlights available in real-time or on-demand in much the same way it did under its previous agreement with Sprint.

More interestingly, though, ESPN will be one of the first broadcasters to launch full-channel programming when Verizon launches its new service this spring. The new service, dubbed V Cast TV and served up by MediaFlo, a division of Qualcomm, will also include traditional broadcast and cable programmers such as CBS, NBC, and MTV. The full-channel programming is especially suited to ESPN’s forte of cable channel programming, but the programming format will be unique to the web and will not be simulcast to cable networks. On the sponsors’ side, Verizon rival AT&T, which hosts the online SportsCenter now, will be allowed to have a commercial spot as part of the V-Cast TV ESPN programming.

Media Excel
On the technology delivery front, Media Excel—a company known for its transcoding and codec capabilities—announced a real-time MobileTV transcoder at this week’s 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The Austin-based company was showcasing their HERA 3200 transcoder appliance, which provides for low-latency, real-time transcoding and 3GPP streaming for live broadcasting to mobile devices at multiple resolutions (QVGA, QCIF, CIF, etc) and multiple bitrates. Devices such as these, which can receive live inputs via SDI, ASI, DVB-T, and other connection types and can output to H.263, H.264, and other 3GPP-compliant codecs, allow traditional broadcasters to easily insert live mobile television broadcast capability into their existing broadcast or cable workflows.

"Current broadcasting and distribution systems are based on MPEG-2 technologies, and service providers must bridge the gap between legacy and emerging H.264/AVC systems," said Eduardo Perez, Media Excel’s VP of marketing. "We see continued interest from traditional broadcasters—who want to reach an increasingly mobile clientele that have access to devices that can display live, real time broadcast feeds—but don’t want to implement completely new workflows until the mobile television market has reached critical mass."

ExpertVillage.com
On the consumer-as-content-programmer front, ExpertVillage.com announced this week that they are providing mobile users the opportunity to stream or download content directly to portable devices. ExpertVillage.com, along with ViewDo and VideoJug, fits into the how-to streaming video space. CEO Byron Reese notes that some of the video is being shot specifically for mobile delivery while other existing videos are being transcoded for the smaller screen.

"Our videographers deliver the videos to us in broadcast quality," says Reese, "so we’re able to transcode content for delivery on the web or on a number of mobile devices. We’re providing streaming content to any device that uses 3GPP over RTSP, but we’re also providing the ability to stream or download content to any device—mobile or otherwise—that has an HTTP browser."

ExpertVillage.com notes that it doesn’t yet know which mobile devices will see the most frequent use for mobile content, calling this week’s launch an "real-world test lab" to gauge viewer interest and consumption trends.

We’re looking at content we think the viewer would most need at a time when they are mobile," says Reese. "For instance, we can see an obvious benefit to titles such as ‘How to Jumpstart A Car’ or ‘How to Change a Car Tire,’ but we also think mobile users will be attracted to titles about how to perform a golf swing or step-by-step tango lessons. Even though the image sizes are small (160x120) most of the content is shot in close ups by professional videographers, so we think the content translates well to the small screen."

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